Interview – Desire strong inside Jonny Brownlee as he targets gold at Tokyo 2020

LEEDS triathlete Jonny Brownlee is open and honest about the races that matter most.

OPTIMISTIC: Jonny Brownlee. Picture: Tony Johnson

The 28-year-old has twice podiumed in the most important one of the lot – the Olympic Games.

Success in the second dearest race to his heart – the Leeds leg of the ITU World Triathlon Series – still eludes him.

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However, there is no denying the importance of the lesser-known men’s eliminator race at the Super League triathlon in Singapore – just one month after winning it.

Dogged by the worst year of his career in 2018, it was a race that saw Brownlee back with a bang, fuelling belief that his third and final Olympics at Tokyo 2020 could be his best yet and lead to the ultimate check out of a double gold.

After taking silver at the 2016 Rio Olympics following a bronze at London 2012, Brownlee will have two medals to chase at the Tokyo 2020 extravaganza following the introduction of the mixed relay race.

Two members of each sex will represent Team GB with Brownlee and his double Olympic gold medallist brother Alistair hoping to excel at a third Games in succession.

Two years Alistair’s junior, Tokyo could perhaps present Jonny’s ultimate chance to shine, although the Leeds athlete endured a torrid 2018 disrupted by a hamstring injury.

GOLDEN FUTURE? Triathlete Jonny Brownlee. Picture: Simon Hulme

Now, though, the younger Brownlee is back with a bang, his confidence boosted by that recent victory in Singapore and hopes fuelled that Tokyo 2020 can indeed be a case of third time lucky.

As a reigning medallist, Brownlee can now qualify for the Olympics at August’s Tokyo test event which, along with his beloved Leeds leg in June, forms one of two main targets for 2019.

“For me, these next two years are very big years,” said Jonny.

“This year it is very important to qualify for the Olympics. In every Olympic sport, it’s very important to qualify a year early but this time it is even more important because of the Tokyo heat and humidity.

FOLLOW ME LEADER: Jonny Brownlee leads his brother Alistair on the bike in the Elite Mens Race through Millennium Square back in 2017. Picture: Tony Johnson.

“You want to be able to qualify a year early so you can go into 2020 knowing you have only got one day to focus on.

“But I am feeling good. I raced in Singapore the other weekend in a new series called Super League and I raced the best I have in the last couple of years really.

“I felt absolutely brilliant, my body felt good finally and I was on that start line enjoying racing. It felt like a really important race for me because my year in 2018 was probably the worst year I have had.

“But I felt really good. It’s brilliant, it’s nice to be back racing and enjoying racing again.”

WELL DONE: Jonny Brownlee congratulates brother Alistair for winning the Elite Men's Race in Leeds in 2017. Picture: Tony Johnson.

Opening up on what went wrong in 2018, Brownlee explained: “I spent the whole year basically last year with a hamstring injury.

“I couldn’t really train or race properly and I didn’t realise how much that effects you until I raced the other weekend. I felt good.

“It’s a bit like having a cold and you don’t realise how ill you were until you feel good again.

“The whole of last year, it wasn’t necessarily that I couldn’t train at all, it was just one of those things where something was wrong all the time and in races you wanted the race to be over rather than looking forward to racing properly.

“I was worrying about my body restricting me from going fast rather than my heart and lungs restricting.

“It turned out to be one of those years that I just want to put behind me.”

February’s outing in Singapore was the perfect start and Brownlee is set to return to action at the Bermuda leg of the World Series next month.

At the peak of his powers, Brownlee would have every chance of repeating his 2012 world title triumph, but two other targets are being prioritised over any bid to become world champion for a second time.

As well as qualifying for the Olympics, Brownlee is determined to savour a maiden success in the Leeds leg of the World Series, especially after pulling up in the race due to a stomach bug last year.

“I’m not necessarily focusing on becoming world champion,” he added. “I’m going to focus on targeting certain World Series races and doing them well and then going to the Olympic Test event and doing that well.

“Hopefully, we can qualify three male athletes and three female athletes for the Olympics but that’s still not decided yet because you have got to qualify that through points.

“But if you are a reining Olympic medallist then you have got to do well in the Tokyo Test event and if you are not an Olympic medallist then you have got to do well in a race in Yokohama in May and then Tokyo in August.

“The Leeds race is also very important for me this year. I am obviously very Leeds-proud and, after last year, I want to do better than ever. Last year probably hurt me more than a lot of races in my career, so I want to do really well in that one.”

Sunday, June 9 will present the opportunity to savour glory in Leeds – a race Jonny has yet to win with the athlete second to brother Alistair in both 2016 and 2017.

Yet, even for proud Yorkshireman Jonny, the importance of one race by far outweighs the others and Brownlee is desperate to end his Olympics career in style next year.

“I think Tokyo will be my last Olympics – but you never say never,” added Brownlee. “There’s the longer distance stuff and I like the idea of a new challenge, but I am very focused on the next 18 months and then I will worry about that after.

“Now, it is about the Olympics and I want a gold more than ever – two gold medals because of the mixed team relay. So if I could walk away from the Olympics with four medals that would be absolutely amazing.

“The desire is stronger than ever and especially after last year my aim is to get back to my best, if not better, and be on that starting line in 2020 to be able to compete for that medal.

“Singapore taught me that if I can get back to my very best then I can be competitive. Last year it wasn’t everybody else getting better, it was me getting worse and not being at my best.”