Jonny Brownlee prepares to hit back and steal Rio crown

Jonny Brownlee in Millennium Square, Leeds. 'Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe
Jonny Brownlee in Millennium Square, Leeds. 'Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe
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YORKSHIRE triathlon star Jonny Brownlee hopes he can wipe away a nightmare year with the ultimate 2016, featuring glory at the Leeds leg of the ITU World Series and a Rio Olympics gold.

The Leeds-based Brownlee brothers have already established themselves as two of the sport’s greats with older brother Alistair bagging gold at the London 2012 Olympics after world championship wins in 2009 and 2011.

Jonny, meanwhile, secured his own world title in 2012 and looked in pole position to add a second triumph this year 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 Alistair finished 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 left thigh bone stress fracture 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 a double dose of misfortune, Jonny told The Yorkshire Post: “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 and it’s all ifs, buts and maybes ... if I’d not been injured. But I wasn’t there.

“But I’ll take this year definitely to get a first in the Leeds World Series and an Olympic Gold, I’d definitely swap the two, no doubt about that, I’d swap them tomorrow.”

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 yet to come.

Reaching peak fitness for the first leg of next year’s March World Series opener in Abu Dhabi is the next big goal though he admits he quite fancies being fit enough to take in his childhood favourite of the Yorkshire Cross 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 ITU World Series – and the monumental matter of the athlete’s second Olympic Games in Rio two months later.

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 Championships. 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 quickly but this last year, mainly because of injury, it has gone quite slowly. But triathlon is one of them sports where the Olympic is 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 wavey for the swim, the bike will be very heavy and then it’s quite a fast run so it will be a 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 – I never thought I would even be close as a kid. To actually get to the top of the sport and get an Olympic medal was very special. Now I have got the medal, so now it’s all about gold.”

And before that all about the build up to next year’s inaugural Leeds leg of the World Series, which Jonny hopes can follow the lead of the 2014 Grand Depart.

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

“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.

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