Triathlon Canada has hired a Whistler resident with a tremendous resumé to help put elite-level athletes back on international podiums in future years.
Libby Burrell was introduced as the organization’s new high-performance director on Sept. 4 and said she’s looking forward to taking over the new post. Coming off an Olympic Games that could only be described as disappointing for the Canadian program, Burrell said she thinks the country has many elements of a successful program already in place.
“A lot of the pieces of the puzzle are there,” Burrell told The Question. “It’s about making them co-ordinate and work, and finding out what kind of tweaking we need to do within the organization.”
Burrell’s first official day on the job was Monday (Sept. 10), when began meeting with athletes and coaches in Victoria to “gather information and do a lot of listening” as she develops a plan.
“Libby is a detailed strategic planner that has an impressive track record in positioning high-performance triathletes for success,” said Triathlon Canada executive director Alan Trivett in a press release. “I have no doubt she will continue to concentrate her leadership on ensuring Canada’s triathletes remain focused on excellence.”
Burrell has been living in Whistler for 2 ½ years, working for the International Triathlon Union (ITU) office in Vancouver. Originally from South Africa, Burrell represented her home country at the World Triathlon Championships as an athlete through the mid-90s, then moved into a coaching role for the sport’s Olympic debut in 2000.
She later worked as the high-performance director for U.S. Triathlon between 2001 and 2006, helping that program to some of its best-ever results. Burrell has worked for the ITU since.
While Canada has produced some notable triathlon “superstars” in recent memory, Burrell said, it’s important to ensure the national program is developing athletes at the lower tiers as well.
“We need to have a sustainable competitiveness so that we keep producing stars and that we have a lot of athletes in the pool (to select from),” she said. “The more athletes you have at the base, the more competitive you are at the top, so that’s part of what I’ll be looking at.”
Burrell said she’ll have a better idea what direction she’d like to see the program move when her meetings in Victoria wrap up towards the end of the month.
Triathlon Canada received plenty of attention in London for the wrong reasons last month, largely due to issues surrounding Paula Findlay’s last-place finish in the women’s event. Findlay, who had not raced in about a year prior due to a hip injury, split with her coach just weeks before the Olympics and didn’t have the same form she showed when winning five top-level ITU races in the two years leading up to the Games. Findlay also revealed Tuesday (Sept. 11) that she has an iron deficiency and won’t compete at the world championships this year.
Canadian flag-bearer Simon Whitfield was openly critical of how Findlay’s injury situation was handled, assigning blame to several individuals by name. The two-time Olympic medallist then crashed out of the men’s race, leaving Canada without a top-12 triathlon finish at the Games for the first time.
Burrell said she hopes the program can “re-invent Paula’s career,” while she remains optimistic about the prospects within the Canadian triathlon community.
“I think I’ve got something to contribute and I love the challenge,” said Burrell, who will also meet with athletes based out of the Toronto area within the next few weeks.
Closer to home, Burrell said she supports the idea of Whistler hosting Ironman Canada, which is looking for a new home in the western provinces for next year.
“If there’s an event (featuring) biking, swimming and running that gets the community active and brings people to this beautiful town, I would be all for it,” she said.