CONSIDERING dad Andrew competed for Yorkshire, triathlon looked an obvious choice for Leeds-born Jess Learmonth.
Surprising then that the former Boston Spa Academy pupil was 23 when trying the sport for the first time.
Eight years on, the Allerton Bywater-based star is one of the best triathletes in the world who is still improving at 31 years of age and eyeing not just Tokyo 2020 but maybe even Paris 2024.
Only three women will fly the flag for Team GB at next year’s Olympics in Tokyo yet former Bramham Primary School pupil Learmonth could be one of them despite having never even competed in a triathlon race until her mid 20s.
Despite dad Andrew’s exploits, Learmonth opted for swimming as a child competing nationally for the City Of Leeds Swimming Club until calling it a day aged 16.
Then came a brief foray into football but sport was the last thing on Learmonth’s mind as she and partner Jonny Wilkinson took a year out travelling exploring Australasia and Asia.
It’s mad to think I was just a normal person just doing triathlon for fun and then if it turns out that I go to Tokyo I will be stood there thinking ‘what the heck?!’Jess Learmonth
Upon returning, the couple decided to get fit with cycling cited as the perfect exercise for helping Learmonth recover from a ruptured ACL.
With cycling suddenly introduced and with her swimming background in mind, not to mention her dad’s influence, a charity triathlon for her work in Adel at the turn of the decade naturally appealed.
The rest, as they say, is history, with Learmonth crowned 2017 European champion as part of a year that featured two World Series podiums. She then continued her success into 2018, finishing fifth in the World Series, runner-up at the Europeans and taking two silver medals at the Commonwealth Games.
Gold Coast 2018 success came four years after attending the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealths as a mere fan to see her partner’s brother James compete in the 3,000m steeplechase.
Five years on, it is Learmonth flying the flag with 2019 having already featured two ITU world series podiums with the triathlete now ranked fourth in the world.
Learmonth told the YEP: “I reckon I got into it when I was about 23 and I’m 31 now. I went travelling with my boyfriend and when we came back we decided to get fit and I had ruptured my ACL playing football. The rehab for that was cycling and stuff like that. Then work were doing a charity triathlon and I have known about triathlon all my life because my dad used to do it in the 80s.
“I just decided to start doing local events like the Leeds Triathlon and Tadcaster Triathlon and then each year I just aimed for something different.
“The next year I’d do the British Superseries, the year after it would be the Europeans and then I found myself on the GB team as a pilot, like a domestique for Rio. I was lucky that I got that break and then I just got on in my own right. It’s just gone from there.”
Learmonth was added to the British Triathlon’s World-Class Performance Squad in 2015 with the securing of funding meaning she could commit to the sport full time having previously been a fitness instructor/personal trainer in Adel. Prior to that, Learmonth worked in Sainsbury’s.
Learmonth laughed: “It’s funny because I worked in admin in Sainsbury’s but for some reason, the triathletes, the girls, they thought I worked at the fish counter at Sainsbury’s! They always joke and say ‘from Sainsbury’s fish counter to World Series gold.”
At current progress, World Series gold will be next for Learmonth having taken bronze at Abu Dhabi and silver in Bermuda so far this year and now heading to Yokohama for what is an Olympic qualifying event. Learmonth, though, is still pinching herself at her late and rapid rise through the ranks and at 31 the triathlete is only just getting going.
Asked if even Paris 2024 could be an aim, Learmonth pondered: “Originally I was thinking Tokyo and then all the young uns will be coming through. But if I just stopped because I thought I was too old then it would be a bit silly so I am just going to take every year as it comes. I pinch myself all of the time. It’s mad to think I was just a normal person just doing triathlon for fun and then if it turns out that I go to Tokyo I will be stood there thinking ‘what the heck?!’
“I would just be gobsmacked more than anything, I’d be very proud but I feel like I’ve just blagged it.
“I’m just going to milk it for all it’s worth.”
Jess Learmonth is set to compete at the Leeds leg of this year’s ITU World Triathlon Series on June 8-9. For info about purchasing a grandstand ticket, visit Leeds.triathlon.org