For Jonny Brownlee, 2017 was supposed to be his year.
Elder brother Alistair’s transition to Ironman distances opened a door of opportunity for the 27-year-old.
But in an era where nothing can be taken for granted, Brownlee is already in last-chance saloon in his bid to become world champion as the ITU World Series rolls into Leeds this weekend.
Tomorrow’s race in Leeds is the fourth event of the Series and has taken on greater significance for the silver medallist from Rio last year. Struck by injury and ill-fortune, Brownlee has yet to register a finish in this year’s championship and cannot afford a slip-up in any of the remaining five races prior to the finale in Rotterdam in September.
Where better for a sea change in luck than a race in your home city with the helpful return of the reigning double Olympic champion?
“If I have any chance of winning the World Series, it’s got to start in Leeds,” said Brownlee.
“It’s still within reach, but it’s become very hard. Things could be very different in two months’ time and Leeds is a good place to start. If I want to become world champion, it has to start now,”
Brownlee missed the first two races of the year in Abu Dhabi and Australia’s Gold Coast – host of next year’s Commonwealth Games – through a hip injury sustained over the winter.
His return to racing in Yokohama last month brought another example of sporting distinction to the family.
Eight months on from his gutwrenching collapse at the series finale in Mexico last year, Brownlee was spurred on by sporting instinct to run more than a mile with his bike around his shoulder after a crash in Japan.
Plaudits for his courage rained in, once again. But Brownlee has become wary about his career becoming synonymous with overcoming adversity.
“It’s quite a funny situation when you get more recognition and nicer words when things go wrong,” he said on the Yokohama reaction.
“As an athlete you cross the finish line upset because the race hasn’t gone well. To get that response is weird, it’s very strange.
“You feel that recognition should come when things go right and for success rather than strange events. I don’t want to get remembered for that, though. I would much rather get remembered as someone who has won races and done well in them rather than someone who collapsed over the finish line and carried their bike for a mile.”
Spain’s Mario Mola, who beat Jonny to the world championship crown at the dramatic finale in Mexico last year, leads the Series standings again this year ahead of fellow countrymen Fernando Alarzo and Javier Gomes Noya.
It is a rare occurrence that the surname Brownlee does not feature at the top of the leaderboard.
During his career, the World Series has been a place of consistency for Jonny and from 2010 and 2014 he secured 40 consecutive podium finishes.
The Bramhope athlete has bemoaned a lack of luck for the first time.
“It’s just been a case of when one things goes wrong, everything goes wrong,” he said. “It’s annoying and frustrating, but I have told myself I have just been unlucky. I have had a lot of luck in my career throughout the years. Maybe I’m due a bit of bad luck. Hopefully I’ve used it all up and I’m back on the good luck again.”
Luck may come in the shape of elder brother Alistair, who will mark his return to the World Series tomorrow after three races over half Ironman distances this year. Alistair’s transition to half Ironman events in 2017 looked to have been seamless after winning his first two races in Gran Canaria and Utah.
But trouble followed in Slovakia in the inaugural championship last weekend when he retired on the run after leading the race over the first two disciplines.
The 29-year-old won the inaugural staging of the ITU event in Leeds 12 months ago as Jonny followed behind in second.
Projections suggest the two ambassadors of the city will have more than 100,000 lining the streets again to cheer them on.
Inclement weather may reduce numbers in Roundhay Park and the city centre. Usually, wet weather would play into the Brownlee’s favour although Jonny is hoping the rain clouds stay well away.
He added: “It’s a bit of a funny one when it’s in Leeds. Normally when I’m abroad, I quite like it when it rains because it suits me best, but I want it to be amazing with all the crowds so I’d be quite happy with a dry day here.
“Hopefully that means more people turn out and it becomes the incredible day it was last year.”