Jonny Brownlee admits he questioned his future in triathlon and feared he would never get back to his best during a nightmare 2018 season.
The former world champion and two-time Olympic medallist had hoped to seize the mantle while his brother Alistair dabbled in long-distance races but instead found himself an also-ran.
He finished seventh at the Commonwealth Games and did not make the podium at a single World Triathlon Series race for the first time since 2009.
Happily for Brownlee, 2019 has started on a much brighter note with victory in the Super League race in Singapore last weekend, the 28-year-old leaping and punching the air as he crossed the finish line.
“Last year was tough,” Brownlee said. “I made a lot of mistakes at the start of the year getting ready for the Commonwealth Games and basically paid the price for them the whole year.
“I didn’t really enjoy racing, I raced the whole time with little niggles. It was a year to forget. I went into races getting beaten, and sometimes quite easily beaten, and not thinking I could get back to being at the top of the field.
“Singapore definitely showed me I could do that and more importantly I could enjoy racing again. It was very, very important. I was actually quite emotional afterwards.”
Crucial has been a winter free of the injury problems that Brownlee admits took the fun out of the sport last year and left him wondering whether he wanted to carry on. “There were a few times last year (when he thought about stopping), not necessarily because I wasn’t performing but every time you’re worrying about something,” he said.
“I do this sport mainly because I enjoy it and enjoy training and when you’re going out on a bike ride with your friends and thinking the whole time about whether something’s going to hurt, it takes the fun out of it.”
Learning when to rest has been a key lesson and Brownlee will not race all of the world series this season, meaning he is unlikely to challenge for the world title, as he prioritises qualifying for next summer’s Olympics in Tokyo.
He said: “I’d take Olympic qualification over everything because my main aim is to win an Olympic medal again, ideally a gold one. Qualifying a year out is more important because of the challenges of the heat and the humidity. You want to be ready for that race.”
Whether his brother joins him remains to be seen. Alistair has successfully dipped his toe in longer format races, finishing second at the half-Ironman world championships last year, but has struggled with persistent injuries.
“I think he’ll only want to do Tokyo if he can be on that start-line knowing he’s 100 per cent ready to win that race,” said Jonny.
“I would like him to be there, more than anything because the last two Olympics I’ve had him there. I don’t know if that’s just my personality is not liking change but it has been very nice to have your brother stood next to you on two Olympic start-lines, especially London.”