Brownlees inspire Leeds pupils to go for gold

Jonny Brownlee, signing younsters medals after completing the event. Picture: James Hardisty
Jonny Brownlee, signing younsters medals after completing the event. Picture: James Hardisty
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It was out with trigonometry and in with triathlon for 1,200 lucky Leeds youngsters taking part in an action-packed event run by homegrown Olympic medallists Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee.

The mini triathlon at the John Charles Centre in South Leeds was the inaugural event of the Brownlee Foundation – a charity set up by the dynamic duo to encourage more youngsters into sport.

Alistair Brownlee, watching youngsters set off on the swimming event.

Alistair Brownlee, watching youngsters set off on the swimming event.

Pupils from 80 primary schools across the city leapt at the chance to swim 50m, cycle 1,000m and run 500m – not to mention grabbing the autographs of the inspirational Horsforth brothers.

London 2012 and Commonwealth Games gold medallist Alistair, who first started competing in the multi-sport event aged around eight, said the experience had been “absolutely amazing”.

He said: “To see 1,200 kids from all over Leeds, all here and doing a triathlon is amazing.

“When I first started triathlons I would speak to someone and say ‘I do triathlons’ and they would say ‘what’s that?’ so the fact that it’s moved forward that far is incredible.”

He added: “It’s nice to think it’s in part down to us – that’s fantastic.”

Suraiyah Ruan-Sherlock, a pupil at Bracken Edge Primary School in Chapeltown, said: “The best bit was getting an autograph from Alistair.

“I watched the brothers in the Olympics so it was really exciting – I was buzzing.”

The nine-year-old said she had really enjoyed the sporting challenge, adding: “It was hard work. When I crossed the finish line my legs felt like jelly.”

The response from schools interested in taking part in yesterday’s event was so enormous, the brothers are already planning next year’s and hoping to at least double the number of participants.

Alistair said: “The take-up was absolutely massive.

“Maybe next year, with a bit of luck, we might be able to have two of them here, or even more.”

The brothers set up the foundation with the aim of using their beloved sport to promote positivity in sport as well as developing coaches and teachers in their home county of Yorkshire.

The pair, who train in Otley, hope to inspire more people to take up triathlon, which has only been an official part of the Commonwealth Games since 2002.

Gail Palmer-Smeaton, from Leeds Active Schools – which supports the foundation, said: “It was a fantastic idea. Children took part who ordinarily wouldn’t be active, who wouldn’t get on a bike, wouldn’t think of running or getting in a pool and they’ve been given that opportunity to have a go.

“Then of course there’s the chance to meet Olympic athletes – so that we have that inspiring side of it as well.”

The duo teamed up with the British Triathlon Foundation Trust to run the event, with the foundation providing the bikes.

Less than two weeks ago the Olympic triathletes were at Harewood House to meet participants in the second Macmillan Brownlee Tri North – a scaled-down version of the extreme endurance event.

The distances tackled by the elite Olympic athletes are a 1.5k swim, followed by a 40k cycle and 10k run.

Last year the brothers were both awarded honorary degrees from the University of Leeds in a ceremony recognising outstanding achievement.

Alistair is the only athlete to win the world championship at junior, under-23 and senior level.

Jonathan, 24, became Triathlon World Champion in 2013 and took silver at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow this summer.

The Brownlee Foundation is supported by Leeds Active Schools and Morrisons.

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