DOUBLE Olympic champion Alistair Brownlee will be defending a perfect record in tomorrow’s Leeds leg of the ITU World Triathlon Series.
Two races, two wins, with the 31-year-old now back on the start line for a third time having missed the race through injury last year.
In what will be his first World Series race of the year, returning to win in 2019 would be quite an achievement for the triathlete who was first across the line in Leeds in 2016 and 2017.
Yet Brownlee is first and foremost thrilled to make the start-line this time and deeply proud of a race that the Yorkshireman hopes is here to stay on the triathlon calendar.
London 2012 and Rio 2016 gold medallist Brownlee is approaching potentially a defining race in terms of his future aims and ambitions with the Leeds ace still harbouring hopes of competing at what would be a fourth Olympic Games at Tokyo next year.
Following his triumph in Rio, Brownlee had announced his intention to pursue new glories in the Ironman Triathlon field, leaving the question of Tokyo open to debate.
It’s very competitive at top-level world series racing. There’s quite a few guys who potentially could win so we will see.Alistair Brownlee
A year of frustration through niggles and injuries complicated the picture further, yet in recent weeks Brownlee has found himself back with a bang.
Finally injury-free, the double Olympic champion cemented his return to form at the weekend by winning a fourth ETU Triathlon European Championship in Weert, Holland, two weeks after victory in the ITU Cagliari World Cup.
Ironman Triathlon purists still remain at the forefront of Brownlee’s mind but the triathlete admits his current ‘short course’ races are all geared around the potential for an outing at a fourth Olympic Games.
His gold medal triumphs at London and Rio need no introduction but less heralded was the then 20-year-old student’s outing at the Beijing Olympics of 2008. One year later, a new triathlon World Series was introduced – including a leg in London – with Brownlee and fellow triathlete brother Jonny dreaming of one day having a leg in Leeds.
Seven years on, the brothers got their wish – meaning this weekend’s race will always mean the world to Alistair in its own right, even without this year’s outing holding possibly even more importance in terms of the bigger picture and road to Tokyo.
“I’m really happy to be on the start line to start with,” says Alistair.
“At the moment, there is nothing wrong with me and I’m in a good place to be able to push on and just race to the best of my ability, really. That’s the main thing and we’ll see.
“The last few races I have done it’s been about training as hard as I can and preparing as well as I can to get into the race and then going out and doing the race and having the added incentive that Leeds was ahead. I am delighted that I am on the start line and I just want to be competitive.
“Leeds is really special to me. Jonny and I worked hard in trying to push people to bring it to Leeds in the first place and going back to when the World Series was first off in 2009, I don’t think really we would have ever believed that you would get one to Leeds.
“The fact that it came and the crowds being fantastic in that first year made it super special. It’s not only showing Leeds off to the triathlon world, it’s showing triathlon off to the people and spectators of Leeds so it is really, really special and I hope it continues.”
With Alistair missing the race last year and brother Jonny also struggling with injury, South Africa’s Richard Murray returns to the contest as defending champion, having edged out runner-up Mario Mola, of Spain, and France’s bronze medallist Vincent Luis.
Mola and Luis have one victory apiece from this year’s World Series in addition to France’s Dorian Coninx.
“It’s very competitive at top-level world series racing,” said Alistair, assessing the possible dangers. “There’s quite a few guys who potentially could win so we will see.”
Brother Jonny is another of them, though if Alistair has his way it will again be himself who takes pride of place on the podium and any sort of positive result will naturally further fuel dreams of Tokyo 2020.
Assessing what it would mean to step out at a fourth Olympics, Brownlee admitted: “It would mean a massive amount. I don’t want to think too far ahead of stuff at the moment, it’s about focusing on this weekend and then the race after that.
“But for someone like me, the Olympics has been part of my life since I was eight years old.
“It’s fantastic that I have been there a couple of times already but really it is about it moving forward and I guess doing it again in the Olympics is super special anyway whether it’s the first time you go or the fourth time. It would mean a massive amount.”