Simon Whitfield is the target of a claim by Victoria triathlon coach Patrick Kelly.

Victoria’s Simon Whitfield under fire for 2012 comments

Triathlon coach Patrick Kelly seeks compensation for reputation damage

Simon Whitfield has been praised for his passionate expression on Twitter. But a civil suit filed this week is suggesting he went to far in targeting Paula Findlay’s coach Patrick Kelly following her disappointing result, finishing dead last in the women’s triathlon of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

Now Whitfield is the target.

The retired athlete and Fairfield resident in Victoria and is the defendant in a notice of civil claim filed with the Supreme Court of British Columbia on Aug. 1, by triathlon coach Patrick Kelly.

As well as coaching Canada’s elites, such as Findlay, Kelly was best known in Greater Victoria as the National Triathlon Centre program coordinator for most of the last decade. The NTC was based out of Saanich Commonwealth Place, where Kelly coached dozens of up-and-coming junior triathletes (16 to 23), including 2016 Olympic hopefuls Kirsten Sweetland (25) and Matt Sharpe (23) of Saanich, who recently represented Canada at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

Kelly now coaches in Hong Kong with the Hong Kong Sports Institute but says in the claim that his reputation within the international triathlon community has been damaged by Whitfield’s attacking comments. They came in a specific tweet on Aug. 4, 2012, followed by additional comments overheard among journalists that day, and then spoken in a media session the next day.

Here’s an excerpt of Whitfield’s comments in the claim, which remain unproven.

“Patrick Kelly endorsed a rushed recovery plan for Paula Findlay … Over and over and over again, they just kept driving the car into a brick wall, and in the end, they all finally said, ‘She’s difficult to work with,’ and they all jumped ship. No, you should have stood up and said, ‘We failed.’”

Findlay was a medal favourite in London due to her success in the ITU World Cup series, though the coaching relationship ended in the weeks prior to the London Games.

Whitfield, a two-time Olympic medalist and Canada’s flag bearer in London, tweeted in earnest during the women’s London Games triathlon.

While most of his tweets reported on the nature of the race’s progression, his frustration came through when it was clear Findlay’s chances at a podium finish had slipped away.

As of Thursday, Aug. 7, the following tweet remained on Whitfield’s wall, though it has been requested within Kelly’s claim, launched from North Vancouver, to remove such defaming tweets from that day, Aug. 4, 2012:

“gutted 2c Paula so upset. There are some people who need to be held accountable here, total incompetence before they jumped ship. #shameful”

Though it comes two years late, it’s not the only story of controversy amongst South Island athletes at the London Games. At the time, there was an undeniable rift among the Elk Lake rowers, home of Canada’s men’s program and the Patricia Obee and Lindsay Jennerich boat, which eventually ended with the dismissal of maligned and loved (depending on the camp), and highly successful coach Mike Spracklen following the games.

Spracklen’s coaching styles are said to have divided the men’s rowing program into two camps,  despite the men’s heavyweight eight boat winning silver, it’s second straight medal following gold in 2008.