World Triathlon: Have-a-go heroine Learmonth shows no sign of slowing down

Launch of general entry for the 2018 ITU World Triathlon Leeds, held at Leeds Train Station, Leeds. Pictured (left tor right) Rob O'Brien, Michael Hemsworth, Rob Harbouren, Dan Blackburn, John-Paul Bednarek, (correct), Stephanie Sewley, and (centre) European champion Jess Learmonth. 
(Picture: James Hardisty)
Launch of general entry for the 2018 ITU World Triathlon Leeds, held at Leeds Train Station, Leeds. Pictured (left tor right) Rob O'Brien, Michael Hemsworth, Rob Harbouren, Dan Blackburn, John-Paul Bednarek, (correct), Stephanie Sewley, and (centre) European champion Jess Learmonth. (Picture: James Hardisty)
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In a sport that promotes forward momentum and endurance races in big cities across the world, triathlete Jessica Learmonth rarely gets time to stop and think.

But as the 28-year-old takes five weeks away from the hustle and bustle of training at the end of the season, she has allowed herself time to reflect on her remarkable journey.

Jess Learmonth in the Elite Womens Race at WTS Leeds in 2017 (Picture: Tony Johnson)

Jess Learmonth in the Elite Womens Race at WTS Leeds in 2017 (Picture: Tony Johnson)

Five years ago, Learmonth was just an average performer tackling locally-promoted events.

Last month, however, the Bramham athlete rubberstamped her position as one of the world’s best by capping a memorable year with a bronze medal at the year ending World Triathlon Series Grand Final in Rotterdam.

It was a result that came off the back of rapid progress up the world standings, which involved a career-best sixth-place finish at her home World Series race in Leeds, victory at the European Championships in Kitzbühel and a maiden podium place in Stockholm.

With team-mates Non Stanford and Vicky Holland suffering an injury-hit year, Learmonth topped the British contingent in the women’s world rankings, finishing a career-high sixth.

I always thought I could do okay but the last two races did come as a bit of a surprise. To manage to get a third at a Grand Final is unbelievable for me.

Jessica Learmonth

“I always thought I could do okay, but the last two races did come as a bit of a surprise,” Learmonth told The Yorkshire Post.

“To manage to get a third at a Grand Final is unbelievable for me.

“I thought I might be able to do it at some point, but it’s come a lot quicker than I had anticipated.”

It was in 2012 that Learmonth began cycling to aid an Achilles ligament injury sustained playing football.

Later that year, she completed her first triathlon around Castle Howard before challenging herself around similar events in Wetherby and Tadcaster.

At the time, Learmonth worked full-time as a personal trainer and trained with friends along country roads.

It was with one of those former training partners during her elongated break at this season’s end that her breakthrough success finally sunk in.

“I was on the bike with one of my friends who I knew when I was getting into triathlon and she said how funny it was that five years ago I had been competing in local events and working full-time,” added Learmonth.

“You forget because you get so caught up in it, you don’t think about it.

“When you do stop and think, honestly, it’s bizarre, I never thought I would get to where I have done today.

“My family are just really proud, they like to tell me all the time. People seem to be getting involved in triathlon through seeing that I was doing it. It’s nice to get people interested in sport when they weren’t before.”

For someone to have enjoyed such a rapid rise, a determined, single-minded attitude may be expected. But instead, Learmonth has carried a laid back attitude to performance, focusing on the adoration that pulled her into the sport.

“I’ve come in from a different angle than most. I just enjoy it,” added Learmonth. “I don’t get nervous for races. It’s triathlon. I’m really laid back and have a ‘what will be, will be’ approach.

“I know that wouldn’t work for most people but it works for me, being chilled out about it. My partner John is not involved in triathlon, he’s just a gas engineer so he keeps me grounded. You think of other things other than triathlon and that approach works for me.”

Such attitude was important as Learmonth conquered fear to produce a career high moment in Rotterdam, where she was beaten only by Bermudan record-breaker Flora Duffy and American Katie Zeferes.

Fresh from winning the European title, the White Rose runner knew her performance levels were up there with the world’s best. But after crashing in wet conditions in Yokohoma earlier this year – eventually recovering to finish eighth – her confidence on two wheels was fragile ahead of racing in the rain on the Dutch streets.

“I was scared stiff that I was going to come off the bike again so I was just happy to get over that,” the British athlete reasoned.

“I had been ill the whole week before with a stomach bug. To overcome that and finish the season off with a podium at a world event, that was a definite high point.”

Further rewards could soon be bestowed on the Yorkshirewoman before the turn of the year with selection for next year’s Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, Australia, set to be announced by Team England.

Asked if she felt she had done enough to win the support of the selectors, Learmonth added: “I think so. I have proved that I can race at the top end. Vicky Holland has been automatically selected because she hit the criteria so there’s two spots left. It’s going to be difficult for the selectors but I’ve done my best and all I can do is wait and see.”