Jonny Brownlee has always looked calm and relaxed - but ahead of Tokyo 2020, he really does feel that the pressure is off. As one of Britain’s most successful triathletes, and having put the sport on the map for a new generation with his brother Alistair, Japan will be his Olympic victory lap.
The Rio 2016 silver medallist and London 2012 bronze medal winner will switch his attention to longer distances over half-Ironman and Ironman after the Games in Japan.
For the first time at an Olympics, Jonny looks unlikely to have his brother for support. Alistair was disqualified at the World Triathlon Championship Series race in Leeds at the weekend and looks almost certain to miss out on a place in Tokyo. Instead, that could go to up and coming star Alex Yee, who took victory in an event which effectively only takes place in Yorkshire because of the success of the Brownlee brothers.
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Jonny finished ninth in that race but looks in decent form having won the Sardinia World Cup race a few weeks ago.
A former World Triathlon Series and Commonwealth champion, Olympic gold is the only major top medal Jonny has has not won. But he insists that is no issue to him, and says he has never been infatuated with an overwhelming desire to achieve gold.
“In triathlon, the Olympics are huge but it’s not everything,” he told Eurosport.
I wouldn’t say winning gold has become an obsession, the way I see Tokyo is that if I get a really good result, hopefully a medal - a gold medal would be amazing - that would be the icing on the cake.
“It would just cap off my Olympics career with a cherry on top. I feel that I’ve achieved more in my career than I ever thought I would, so it’s not an obsession, it’s an added bonus.”
Brownlee has already said Tokyo will be his final Olympic Games, and says there is absolutely no chance he will go for a medal at Paris 2024 - but has left the door open for a participating in a different capacity.
“With the Olympics, it’s normally a four year cycle and that’s why I’ll be stepping back after this one. I couldn’t go and do a World Series next year, if I did I would need to do the whole three year cycle up to Paris - because I’m all in or not at all - which I don’t want to do because I’m ready for a new challenge.
I want that feeling of waking up every morning with the excitement that this is something new, I’ve not done it before. I’ve been to the same World Series locations now since 2009 and been there and done that, I’m ready for a change.
“I’m 100% sure I won’t be going to Paris, unless they want me to do a domestique role or help someone, but trying to win a medal myself? No - I’ll be committed to the longer distance stuff.”
Jonny will be trying to do what Alistair did after Rio by moving up in distance. His brother dropped back down to the Olympic discipline in an effort to reach Tokyo, but ultimately fell short. He wonders whether his older sibling could do it all again, the past three years would have been different.
“What’s really important for Alistair and his head is that whatever he does, he does 100%,” he said.
“That’s what he’s done with the Olympic qualification but unfortunately the last few months his body’s let himself down, but not his head.
“I reckon if you were to look back at those years of 2018 and 2019 he probably would have wished he had committed 100% to the long distance stuff and he probably would have got some better results.
“Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and if he had listened to me and his coaches all the time, he wouldn’t have achieved everything he has.”
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Jonny admits competing in Leeds at the weekend made him wonder whether he was making the right decision in fully moving away from the World Series, but says he wants to give the longer distance events a really good go. He feels he can be a success when he does step up.
“I’m hoping it’ll suit me, I’m an all round good triathlete. I do a lot of long training anyway so the it shouldn’t be that much different and the 15 years of long endurance training should help.
There’s no reason why I won’t be good at it. If I get things right, and get my nutrition right, I should do well.
“I’m not sure about Kona (Ironman World Championship), it always seems very hot, and we’ve seen I’m not great in the heat! We’ll wait and see on that, but as far as the half ironman goes, that really should suit me.
“With a few tweaks to my training, I don’t need to do as many speed run sessions, the training should be similar.”
First up, though, is that last shot at Olympic glory.
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