Jones embraces leadership role with Canadian triathlon team
Oakville Beaver – By Herb Garbutt
When Simon Whitfield retired following the London Olympics, Kyle Jones assumed the mantle as Canada’s top male triathlete. It’s no easy task taking the place of a Canadian sports icon.
Whitfield had been the face of triathlon since winning the sport’s first Olympic gold medal in Sydney in 2000, not just in Canada — where he won 10 straight national titles — but around the world. It was inevitable, though, that eventually Whitfield would retire and the Canadian team would need a new leader.
Jones had been groomed for the role for years. He had moved to Victoria to train alongside Whitfield, learning all he could from the four-time Olympian. Along the way, the Oakville native began assembling a solid career of his own. A junior national champion in 2003, Canadian sprint champion and a top-10 finish at the world under-23 championships in 2005. He narrowly missed the podium at the 2007 Pan Am Games, finishing fourth, a result he repeated four years later in 2011. That same year, he nearly ended Whitfield’s run of national titles after being edged in a sprint to the finish.
Jones and Whitfield raced together in London and after a bike crash took Whitfield out of the race, Jones was Canada’s top finisher in 25th. So went the passing of the torch, which Jones gladly accepts.
“It’s a new era and I’m happy to be the leader of that. We have a younger team and it’s exciting to be a part of it. I’ll help any way I can and pass on what I learned from Simon.”
Jones knows, though, the best way to carry on what Whitfield started and to be an example for his teammates is to win races.
“He set the bar high for us,” the 28-year-old said. “I’m not in it for the track suits. I want to win medals. This is my job.”
That made the start to Jones’ season all the more frustrating. Coming off a sixth-place finish at last year’s world championships, Jones was feeling very good about his off-season training. Then he had his first two races derailed by bike crashes in Auckland, New Zealand and San Diego.
It took time to recover from those mishaps, both mentally and physically.
“Crashing at 40 or 50 kilometres an hour takes its toll,” he said. “I’ve got some nice scars now. It took some time to heal and get my body back in form.”
There were also mental scars as Jones said it took time to once again feel comfortable riding at speed in a pack. As a result, his results were mixed — an eighth place at a Grand Prix in France and 27th at a World Triathlon Series race in Madrid.
But with a second-place finish at the International Triathlon Union World Cup race in Edmonton at the end of June — finishing just seven seconds behind France’s Gregory Rouault — Jones showed he is up to the task of leading the Canadian squad. The race also served as the Canadian championships, allowing Jones to claim his second straight national title.
It was a continuation of a good run in Edmonton. Jones finished fourth two years ago and then won last year’s race, his first World Cup victory. And though he had hoped to defend both titles, Jones saw a lot of positives.
“I knew I was in good form,” he said, “it just hadn’t been reflected consistently in my results. Any time you win a national championship it’s important and I’m proud of that. Hopefully, this is a springboard for the rest of the season.”
Racing on Canadian soil has agreed with Jones over the years, and now as he enters a new stage in his career, he’s returning a little closer to his roots. After several years living in Victoria, Jones moved to Milton at the beginning of the year. In addition to bringing Jones and his wife Kelly closer to their families, he said the area has much to offer in terms of training — new pools for swimming, open water swims and running at Kelso Conservation Area and good roads for biking — all a few minutes from his home.
And just as he said he’s always had a positive experience feeding off the energy of the crowd in Edmonton, Jones is hoping for a similar boost for the 2015 Pan Am Games.
“It’s not every day you have a major games at home. It’s something I’m looking forward to and it will be great to see as the momentum builds toward that.”
For now, Jones will look to build off the momentum of his performance in Edmonton at World Triathlon Series race in Kitzbuhel, Austria on Saturday, followed by another race in Hamburg, Germany two weeks later.