Jonny Brownlee interview: Finding contentment as an Olympic champion at last, but Paris 2024 is still on his mind
Jonny Brownlee is tempted, that much he’ll admit.
A new level of contentment has brought a new degree of curiosity for one of Yorkshire’s most decorated Olympians.
He didn’t expect it to be like this.
His build-up to the Tokyo Games was all about that being his last hurrah, the chance to ‘complete the Olympics’ as he later put it, in reference to the bronze he won in London, the silver in Rio, and two chances to take the final step in Tokyo.
Then he finished fifth in the individual race, and the satisfaction at having given everything relaxed him more than he was expecting.
Then he handed over the metaphorical baton after his leg of the mixed team relay at the Odaiba Marine Park having put his team in a commanding position, thinking he could have kept on running.
Then he celebrated animatedly with team-mates Georgia Taylor-Brown, Jess Learmonth and Alex Yee after Britain won gold in the mixed team relay, the Olympic set for Jonny Brownlee complete at last at age 31.
Then he looked at the timesheets for the race, checked his splits against the rest of the field and suddenly his future was not so certain.
“A big moment for me was after the press conferences, the presentation, I went and got the result sheet, which took me back to the old school swimming galas when you’d rush off to get the results sheet,” says Brownlee.
“I looked at the splits, I had the fastest run, the fastest leg and I thought ‘you know what, Paris is only three years away, you never know’.”
A lot of water has to pass under the bridge between now and 2024, but where it would customarily feel like an ocean to cross between Olympic cycles, this time it is more like a reservoir with Paris closer on the horizon due to the delayed Tokyo Games.
So Jonny Brownlee’s retirement plans are on hold.
“If I’m completely honest, before Tokyo 99 per cent of me was thinking that would be my last Olympics, give it everything I possibly can, whatever comes, rain or shine, accept it,” continues Brownlee.
“Then I crossed the line in the relay and thought maybe there’s more to give.”
There is no urgency about making a decision, Brownlee wants to try different races like the Super League Triathlon he has enjoyed post-Tokyo, which have taken him to races as close to home as Jersey and as far away as Malibu.
“I’m still thinking,” says Brownlee, who will test whether he wants to follow older brother Alistair into the longer format by contesting a half-ironman in Portugal later this month.
“I want to see if I’m any good at that and if I enjoy it, and then next year do a bit of racing where I’m not restrained by the Commonwealth or Olympic calendar because once you get into that, it’s difficult to be flexible.
“So I’m wanting to mix it up with a bit of World Cup, World Series – hopefully the Leeds leg – go out and do the races I want to do.
“Like I say, I want a year to relax. There’s no urgency, but it’s complicated with points, it’s amazing how quickly it comes around. The Olympic points window opens up in May next year, you have to qualify slots.
“I’ll only be going to the Olympics if I’m competitive. If I can’t earn points and I’m playing catch-up then I wouldn’t want to go anyway.
“If I do it, then I’d want to keep my foot in the door a little next year and then concentrate on it in 2023 and go again in 2024.
“So right now, it’s definitely very much a possibility, my body feels the best it has for the last three or four years.”
Brownlee knocks so loudly on wood as he says that it could have been heard in Paris.
He knows as well as anyone how quickly injuries can curtail seasons. He is of an age now where he has to work twice as hard to protect his body, to allow it to recover.
Right now, though, he is just happy to be fit and healthy, and competing under the title of Olympic champion.
“It’s a good feeling when you’ve chased something so hard for so long, it’s nice,” he says.
“I’ve been asked a few times what it feels like and I guess I should have probably come up with an answer by now.
“I guess the best way to describe it for me is I just feel really content now with my Olympic career.
“If I didn’t have that gold medal, looking back I think I would have always felt like something was missing.
“That’s not to say it’s over, but I feel as though I’ve now achieved more than I ever wanted to achieve and to finally be able to call myself Olympic champion, to finally get that gold medal and not have to worry about not touching Alistair’s gold medal, is a real nice feeling.”
Alistair, who was working out in Tokyo, was the first to congratulate Jonny on his near flawless leg in the relay.
“I saw him after my leg and he said ‘wow, that was amazing, I told you you were the best relay athlete in the world’,” says Jonny of a brother who twice beat him to individual Olympic gold but has long been his biggest supporter.
“Afterwards he had to rush off to do his other bits but he texted me and said: ‘brilliant, Olympic champion – but my gold medal still counts more’.”
Jonny – who won team gold alongside fellow Leeds runners Jess Learmonth and Georgia Taylor Brown, and former Leeds Beckett University student Alex Yee – adds: “I was emotional after the individual event because I really thought I had given it everything I could to be in shape.
“And then my leg on the relay I think was the best performance I’ve ever had. I set the team up perfectly, but you have that weird moment of having done your bit and it’s out of your hands.
“You then turn into a bit of a fan; you’re getting changed, trying to recover but also trying to watch the race.
“I knew once Alex (Yee) started his running leg out in front we were going to win.
“There’s a few seconds then on the blue carpet where you realise you’re going to be Olympic champions.
“Normally you’re running down the finish line pleading for the end, but I was stood there really fresh thinking ‘wow, this is going to happen’. I could enjoy it.”
Whether it’s the finish line of his Olympic career only time will tell. A lot of water has to pass under the bridge before Paris, just don’t back against Jonny Brownlee wading through it.