Simon Whitfield spies the red ribbon of the finish line. His spirits rise. The crowd is going wild. He’s in first place, and he’s having a blast! Even with his legs feeling very heavy and hurting, and feeling the heat from the Beijing sun as he has been racing for almost two hours, his spirits rise when he sees the crowd.
“I love the thrill of a close race,” says Simon. “I thrive on that energy and pressure.”
Simon is a triathlete and the triathlon is one of the most challenging Olympic events. Competitors swim, then bike, and then run.
“You have to be ready and you have to be healthy,” says Simon. “That means physically healthy and mentally healthy. You need to eat well and have a good attitude or you can’t compete.”
At the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, Simon won the very first Olympic triathlon. He survived a bike crash early in the race, winning with a final sprint to the finish line.
But Simon was 25 years old in Sydney, and he’s 33 years old in Beijing. His results weren’t as good after that victory in 2000, and experts say he’s past his prime or too old to race. Few are expecting him to be leading the Beijing race.
Simon knows something many experts don’t. He’s rediscovered the personal attitude that helped him win in Sydney.
“My goal in a race is to challenge myself to do my best,” says Simon. “My worst races are the ones where I’ve cared about medals or winning. That’s what happened in between 2000 and 2008. My best results have come in races where I just worry about my performance – doing the best I can, leaving nothing behind.”
At the heart of Simon’s attitude is the idea of enjoying the moment, finding a sense of play and fun in all the hard work.
“I didn’t come from an big sport background. I just loved to play,” he says. “I was the kid who was always on the phone calling my friends to come outside and play football, soccer, basketball, hockey… whatever!”
Simon suggests this sense of fun can help athletes from feeling the pressure to win.
“The mental and the physical are absolutely linked. If you put yourself under too much pressure, it affects your ability to perform.”
Eating right was also something Simon learned as a kid.
“Food is such a huge part of it,” he says. “You can’t just open your gob (mouth) and stuff anything inside. Cut processed and junk foods right out. Even in high school I knew that when I ate good food, I felt better.”
Simon’s mind is clear and he knows he’s doing his best – win or lose. An Olympic Games can be overwhelming, and it is sometimes hard for an athlete not to psych themselves out.
“I rely a lot on my Dad,” says Simon. “We talk a lot before my big races. He always tells me: ‘Don’t let the fog roll in.’ By fog he means all the concerns and worries about things I can’t control.”
It’s now neck-and-neck between Simon and one other runner, a much younger triathlete from Germany named Jan Frodeno.
Simon grows more focused with every stride. He rallies his strength as he and Frodeno sprint for the finish.
Frodeno takes the lead with just a few steps to go and breaks the ribbon just ahead of Simon.
The crowd goes wild and continues cheering as Simon crosses the finish line. He has won an Olympic silver medal. He walks over to Frodeno and congratulates him.
Simon’s smile gets bigger. He realizes he’s done his very best by keeping it fun. He’s had a good play.
Connecting: Early Habits Last a Lifetime.
- Ask students to journal about doing their favourite physical activity. Prompts might include: What is your favourite physical activity?
- How do you feel while you are doing the activity?
- Where are you?
- Who else is there with you?
What equipment do you need?
Why do you enjoy this activity so much? Why is it so fun?
Processing: Make a Graffiti Wall
Students read the story quietly on their own. The entire class is encouraged to read it again as a class. Students, with adequate reading skills, can take their turn in reading the story out loud or reading with a partner.
- Have students write or draw ideas about the ways that Simon Whitfield leads an active, healthy life on a Class Graffiti Wall.
Transforming: Charting Change
Students will consider their own active lifestyle and look to seek ways to balance and improve their choices. Over the course of a week, students will record their physical activity on the Physical Health sheet. After the week of data collection, reflect on these chards as a class. The teacher will ask guiding questions, such as, are you active enough? Is your activity confined to one or two areas or is it balanced between home and school?
Using the Think-Pair-Share Instructional tactic, students share their reflections about their physical activity. Students then consider ways to improve or balance their chart, and add these changes to the Future row of the chart.