Triathlon: Jonny Brownlee eyes double triumph in 2016

Jonny Brownlee.
Jonny Brownlee.
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After a frustrating 2015, Jonny Brownlee has his sights set on victory in the Leeds World Series and gold at the Rio Olympics. Lee Sobot reports.

JONNY Brownlee has a firm reason to believe that 2015 should have been HIS year.

Three years after becoming world champion in 2012, the 25-year-old was in pole position to repeat his triumph until dealt a double blow – a bike puncture in London followed by a stress fracture to his left thigh.

With brother Alistair later needing ankle surgery, Spain’s Javier Gomez gladly mopped up an incredible fifth world title and third in a row.

Yet the younger Brownlee says he’ll happily swallow this year’s disappointment if it means a successful 2016 featuring the Rio Olympics and the World Series race in Leeds.

Jonny looked well on course to regain his 2012 world title after impressive victories at Auckland and Gold Coast in the early races of this year’s World Series.

After purposely missing races in Cape Town and Yokohama in which his older brother was first and second respectively, the younger Brownlee was then confident of a third triumph in London until a bike puncture ruined his race en route to a 42nd-place finish. Solace was offered with Alistair further strengthening his position with victory but, for both, frustration with injury was to follow.

A stress fracture to his left thigh bone in June ended any thoughts of Jonny’s bid for a second world crown while his older brother then underwent ankle surgery. For both, there’s a feeling of what might have been.

Yet both athletes are well aware of the significance of 2016 in which Jonny hopes to upgrade his London 2012 bronze into a Rio 2016 gold.

Asked what might have been this year but for double dose of misfortune, Jonny told the YEP: “It would have been a very, very different season but it’s all what ifs isn’t it? “I was in a perfect position before London with two wins and a fifth but in London I would have been very, very close to Alistair so that could have well been another great result.

“The World Series would have looked very different and I think I would have ran well at the Rio test event because it would have suited me but that’s sport isn’t it? It’s all ifs, buts and maybes – if I’d not been injured but I wasn’t there.

“But I’ll take a first place in the Leeds World Series and an Olympic gold this year, no doubt about that!”

The former University of Leeds student has already began his recovery towards that goal by returning from injury for the final leg of this year’s World Series in Chicago. The Yorkshireman would not normally be happy with a 12th-placed finish but the best is very much yet to come.

Reaching peak fitness for the first leg of next year’s World Series in Abu Dhabi on March 4-5 is the next big goal though the passionate Yorkshireman admits he quite fancies being fit enough to run his childhood favourite of the Yorkshire Cross Club Country Championships in January.

The remainder of the year is then quite clearly about two main events, in particular June’s first ever Leeds leg of the World Series – and the monumental matter of the athlete’s second Olympic Games in Rio.

After also missing this year’s Rio test event, Jonny and London 2012 hero Alistair are yet to qualify for South America but both have their sights set firmly on gold.

Jonny reasoned: “The World Series starts in Abu Dhabi next year at the start of March so I suppose that’s the big one and maybe the Yorkshire Cross Country Champs! They are normally in early January but I always quite like doing it if I can. I used to love doing it as a kid so I’ll try and get back for that but the World Series starts in March time and then obviously Rio.

“Looking back on London 2012, it feels quite a long time ago. The Commonwealths came around very, very quickly but this last year, mainly because of injury, it has gone quite slowly.

“It does feel like a long time ago but triathlon is one of those sports where the Olympics are bigger than anything.

“It’s every four years, it’s a multi-sport event and that is the top of sport – an Olympic gold medal, especially in Rio because it is going to be a very hard course.

“The sea will be very wavy for the swim, the bike will very heavy and then it’s quite a fast run so it will be a very, very good gold medal to win.

“2012 was my first Olympics and it was a home Olympics so obviously it was incredibly special because of all that side of it.

“But then to get a bronze medal was what I always wanted to do – to get an Olympic medal – and I never thought I would even be close as a kid.

“So when you actually get to the top of the sport and get an Olympic medal, it was very, very special. Now I have got the medal so now it’s about gold!

“Obviously there’s also the Leeds World Series which is incredibly exciting and I never thought Leeds would have a World Series.

“It’s something that I am really, really looking forward to and hopefully we will see Tour De France-style fans in the city centre of Leeds where we got thousands of people there supporting it.

“And I think we have got a chance now to have a really, really special world series like we’ve never seen before and change triathlon for the future hopefully and show what can be really done.”

The Brownlees deserve that support and in turn are doing their bit to support Leeds.

With the demands of this year’s World Series out of the way, both brothers have been heavily involved in the promotion of the Brownlee Foundation which offers high school pupils a chance to compete in their first ever triathlon for free.

This year the Foundation brought events to John Smeaton, Bradford Grammar and the John Charles Centre For Sport which saw 2,500 children participate.

Plans are fluid to up the ante and stage five Brownlee Foundation triathlons next year which will see up to 5,000 kids participate.

“I spotted a few future champions already, definitely,” said Jonny.

But now it’s Jonny’s turn to again become a champion and for all the former Bradford Grammar star has enjoyed his last four weeks off, Brownlee is now itching to get going.

Jonny Tweeted a picture of himself holding PS4 game FIFA 16 last month – insisting there was “lots of time to play in the off season” and joked: “It’s quite nice to be able to stay up until half ten and play FIFA rather than have to think ‘I have got to go to bed now.’

“It’s quite nice having the pressure off a little bit but I’ll soon be back into it. Then it’s all about the Yorkshire Cross Country!”