Patience is key for Brownlee to keep Olympic ambitions alive

Triathlon World Champion Alistair Brownlee. (Picture: John Giles/PA Wire)
Triathlon World Champion Alistair Brownlee. (Picture: John Giles/PA Wire)
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Alistair Brownlee has enough sense, discipline and patience not to rush back from the injury that threatens his Olympic chances.

Doing so would only risk further damage to his torn Achilles tendon and increase the likelihood that he will not even be able to participate at London 2012, let alone compete for gold.

Brownlee, 23, a former medical student at Cambridge University, is all too aware of the hazards.

But the characteristic the world’s best triathlete must show more than any other over the coming weeks is restraint.

The control not to follow his brother and world No 2 Jonny out of their front door, onto the streets of Bramhope, Leeds, and out into the West and North Yorkshire countryside on one of their daily training runs.

The restraint not to climb into the saddle and fly off in pursuit of his younger brother on one of their numerous rides into the Yorkshire Dales.

Jonny Brownlee is the greatest ally in Alistair’s quest for Olympic gold, but also his greatest threat.

The two have driven each other from a young age to the very top of their sport.

Alistair’s watching brief, with his foot in a protective boot, will test his self-discipline.

He is already through the worst of an injury that developed over a matter of weeks.

He is back swimming – albeit gingerly – and should the tear in his Achilles heel as planned, he will be back for the summer build-up to the men’s Olympic triathlon on Tuesday, August 7.

“It was first detected about four weeks ago,” said Brownlee.

“It came on slowly, I didn’t think it was too serious at first, then all of a sudden it became serious.

“The first scan showed up to be nothing serious, just a little tendonitis which people get, so I carried on running.

“But a couple of weeks later, I was still feeling it, so I went for a scan in London and the doctor there diagnosed it as a rare tear that can often get missed on scans.

“It’s massively frustrating but it’s one of those things.

“In our business, you cannot be worrying about sustaining injuries.

“The key for me now is to not get too frustrated. I’ve got to think day to day, not be thinking about the Olympics.

“For instance, my thought process has to be ‘today I did this, what can I do tomorrow?’ That’s all I’m going to do.

“When I can do more I will do more. But if I rush it, something else will go wrong and I’ll develop an even bigger problem.”

Triathlon is a unique test of an athlete’s skills.

Unlike most sports where a participant returns from injury and goes straight back into training or action, a triathlete has to rebuild both endurance and stamina.

The winter months for a multi-discipline athlete are spent building a base of fitness, which is then called upon when training during the season is centred on honing skills and working on sprinting techniques.

Brownlee’s time spent with his foot in a boot will steadily erode the base he has built up in recent months.

“Triathlon is a funny sport where you’ve got to train to train,” explained Brownlee, whose strongest discipline is running.

“Hopefully, if I can get the boot off in the next couple of weeks, I will be ready to pick it back up again.

“I won’t be able to do much running at first, so I’ll have to get my cycling fitness up pretty quickly.

“What I’ve learned about myself over these last few years is that I can get a good level of fitness through cycling that can translate into running.

“All I can do at the minute is swim – and very slowly.

“I reckon that I’ll get full fitness back two months after I’m back in full-time training.”

The initial prognosis on the discovery of the tear was that Brownlee would be able to compete at the San Diego leg of the ITU World Triathlon Series in May, the date he had originally planned to make his first major appearance of the Olympic summer.

But as the days have worn on, Brownlee has accepted that a trip to California alongside Jonny in two months is beyond him. There are races in Madrid and Kitzbuhel before the end of June that may be more realistic.

Brownlee has bounced back quickly from injury before – in 2010 to win his first European title – and such is his self-belief that he would be confident going into the Olympics with just one race under his belt. “I can definitely get back to being as fit as ever,” said the twice world and European champion.

“As long as I get no more injuries or make this any worse. Madrid would be nice but it’s not necessary. San Diego is probably beyond me now. It would be nice to get one race in before the Games.

“The injury is not ideal. In an ideal world you wouldn’t have any injuries and you would train perfectly through the entire winter and then up to the Games.

“But it could be worse. And it’s my job not to make it any worse by rushing back.”