Jonny Brownlee was doing the rounds in Leeds yesterday, happily listening to amateurs who had raced in the minor events at the ITU World Series over the weekend, fulfilling his sponsorship obligations, and taking time to reflect on what was a bittersweet homecoming.
The younger Brownlee had come home to the streets he knows so well hoping to kickstart his bid for a second World Series title but once again found himself second to his elder brother Alistair.
There is no shame, of course, in such a result, yet for Jonny his enjoyment of racing in front of his home crowds was tempered by a familiar outcome. Not least because Alistair parachuted in to the one and only World Series event he will race this year and still proved to be his sport’s superior specimen.
With Brownlee senior’s focus on the ironman this year, the stage is set for Jonny to reap his own rewards, but in finishing second in Leeds it leaves him 15th in the standings and in need of strong performances in each of the remaining five races in Hamburg, Edmonton, Montreal, Stockholm and Rotterdam.
“It’s good that I’ve finally got some points on the board but it’s going to be difficult for me this year,” said Jonny, who visited YEP towers yesterday as part of his role as an ambassador for Yorkshire Tea. “I’m going to have to do really well in every race and I’ve not left myself much margin for error.
“Leeds was a good place to start. I was pleased but a little disappointed at the same time. I’d have really liked to have won here. It was always going to be hard racing Alistair, making it a long-distance event and making the bike really hard.
“But having said that, it will be one of my proudest moments when I look back at the end of my career, entering the city centre for the first time, hearing that crowd, and just the two of us there makes it even more special.”
The fact that four of the top five triathletes in the elite men’s race were from Leeds added further balm to his frustration.
“We raced really well as a team, Alistair and myself being off the front allowed the others to sit in the bunch and save their legs as opposed to destroying their legs and tiring themselves out, which gave them the chance to run to higher positions,” he said.
“We worked well as a team to get four out of five. Tom Bishop trains in Leeds, he’s a year younger than me, and it’s all good for the sport. You want to see that as British athletes, people to come in and push you on.”
The success of the home squad reflects well on Leeds, which – thanks largely to the all-conquering exploits of the Brownlee brothers – has long since established itself as the country’s home for the sport.
And those very same athletes could be going for glory on two fronts at Tokyo 2020 after the International Olympic Committee approved the expansion of the triathlon programme to encompass the mixed gender team relay in three years’ time. “It’s good for triathlon to have a bit more time in the Olympic spotlight,” said Brownlee.