Paula Findlay: Background, career highlights and quotes

Once the rising star of short-course triathlon, Canada's Paula Findlay is now making big waves in the world of middle-distance racing. Here's everything you need to know about her career to date…

Edmonton, Canada, on the 23rd July 2022, female elite race during at the PTO Canadian Open at Hawrelak Park, Edmonton

A former swimmer and runner who turned to triathlon in college, Canada’s Paula Findlay quickly rose up the ITU ranks to compete at the highest level.

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Unfortunately, severe illness and injury curtailed her ascent, and despite a dogged pursuit of her former short-course glories she never reached those lofty heights again.

But thankfully she wasn’t done with the sport, and in 2017 she tried her hand on the middle-distance circuit, where she now regularly turns in podium performances.

Let’s find out more about one of Canada’s finest triathletes…

Who is Paula Findlay?

Paula Findlay during the bike leg of the Ironman 70.3 World Championship on 7 September, 2019, near Nice, France. (Credit: Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images for Ironman)

Born in Edmonton, Canada, Findlay has been a swimmer since the age of 10. She then added running while at school before a coach suggested she tried her hand at triathlon.

That same year, aged 17, she made her international race debut at the 2006 at the World Junior Championships before switching to the senior ranks two years later at the Kelowna ITU Triathlon Premium Pan American Cup… and winning it.

More podiums followed before she hit the big league in 2010, age 21, winning back-to-back World Championship Series (WCS) races in London and Kitzbühel and finishing fifth at the World Championships.

The following season Findlay made it three WCS race wins in Sydney, Madrid and Kitzbühel and looked set to be one of the main challengers at the London Olympics in 2012. A hip injury midway through the year, though, denied her a shot at the world title.

Going into what would be her only Olympic appearance, an as-yet-undisclosed diagnosis of iron-deficiency anaemia saw an agonising yet ultimately heroic display of sporting greatness as she valiantly completed the race, coming through in last place.

Over the next few years, she tried to make her way back up the ranks, managing an eighth-place finish at the London WCS race in 2015. But she was never able to rediscover that podium-placing form at the top level.

But the short-distance world’s loss was simply middle-distance’s gain, and since 2017 has been climbing 70.3 podiums all over the globe.

How old is Paula Findlay?

Paula Findlay was born on 26 May 1989, making her 33 years of age.

Paula Findlay’s career highlights

Findlay heads to the finish line in second place at the 2019 Ironman 70.3 St. George. (Credit: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

September 2009: Remember the name

After a couple of top-10 finishes at the Junior Worlds, Findlay mounts the podium for bronze at the World U23 Championship in Gold Coast.

July 2010: Olympic intentions

Paula Findlay wins her first World Triathlon Series race, in Hyde Park, London, on 24 July, 2010. (Credit: Mark Wieland/Getty Images)

On what will be the Olympic course in 2012, Findlay has her breakthrough WCS race to take gold. Three weeks later and it’s gold No. 2 in Kitzbühel.

At the World Champs in Budapest in September she finishes fifth. Canada has a new tri queen.

April 2011: A strong start before trouble brews

Findlay starts the year as she left off, winning her first three WCS races in a row. But then a hip injury is diagnosed and the results drop off, only able to finish 29th in London in August and DNF’ing at the Worlds in Beijing in September.

August 2012: Heartbreak and heroics in Hyde Park

Paula Findlay is comforted by her coach after finishing last at the 2012 Olympic Games triathlon in London. (Credit Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/GettyImages)

Fans, friends and family can barely watch as Findlay repeatedly pulls over during the run portion of the 2012 Olympic Games in clear distress and agony. Soon after the race she announces that she’s been suffering with iron-deficiency anaemia.

Over the next five years, she continues racing the ITU circuit, focussing more on the lower-level Pan American and World Cups, but never finishes on the podium in a World Series event again.

October 2017: Silver linings

In her first Ironman 703, in Austin, Texas, Findlay finishes second behind another former ITU star, Sarah Groff (née True).

May 2018: Golden hour 

Findlay wins Ironman 70.3 St. George, Utah, on 5 May, 2018. (Credit: Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Rediscovers that winning feeling at the North American Champs at Ironman 70.3 St George. Two fourths, a sixth and a second complete her first full year on the middle-distance circuit.

September 2019: A minor blip 

Places just outside of the top 10 at her first Ironman 70.3 Worlds, in 13th place. But her year has been bountiful with a fourth, a silver, two bronzes and two golds, including a win at Challenge Daytona in December.

December 2020: Pay day

Races once in a pandemic-pausing season, but it more than makes up for the year off as Findlay wins and collects $100,000 at the PTO Champs at Challenge Daytona.

July 2022: Strong summer

Findlay sneaks a smile for the camera at her home race, the PTO Canadian Open in Hawrelak Park, Edmonton. (Credit: PTO)

In her hometown, Findlay takes silver at the PTO Canadian Open behind another ITU alumni Ashleigh Gentle.

August 2022: Cruises to Collins Cup match victory 

Against Skye Moench (USA) and Kat Matthews (Europe), Findlay dominates from the start to take a win for Team International, who finished runners-up to Team Europe in the PTO’s flagship event in Slovakia.

October 2022: Sublime silver at the 70.3 Worlds

Has a career-best day at the Ironman 70.3 Worlds in St George, Utah, by taking silver behind USA’s Taylor Knibb.

December 2022: Wins 70.3 Indian Wells

Rounds out a strong year – where her lowest result was 10th at the PTO US Open in September – to repeat her 2019 win in California.

Paula Finday in quotes

On finishing last the 2012 Olympic Games: “I’m sorry. I really feel like I need to apologise to everybody. I feel terrible. I had nothing. It’s the Olympics Games and it’s my first time here and it’s overwhelming. I finished. I really wanted to stop. It was a huge mental struggle just to get to the finish line.”

On her anaemia diagnosis in 2012: “It definitely was one of the factors that played into that [London] race. It’s a little bit comforting, well, not comforting, but to know that there was an actual reason I performed that way. It wasn’t because of my [hip] injury. My injury was all better.”

On wining Challenge Daytona in 2020: “I guess I’ve been written off a little bit over the years but showed I still have a little bit in me. To have a top result now, I appreciate it so much more. I’m obviously a lot older now and I’m a better place in my life.”

On her ability to persevere: “I’m pretty good at forging ahead and that’s why I’m still racing. Even right after the Olympics in London I was ready to keep racing. I hadn’t quit the sport. I’ve been racing. Never big enough to get attention from the media. It appears I’ve been gone but I’ve been racing.”

What’s next for Paula Findlay?

Climbing that top step at the 70.3 Worlds will surely be on Findlay’s radar in 2023.

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Top image: PTO