2016 was a year of incredible highs and lows for triathlete Jonny Brownlee. Having spent the past four years swimming, cycling and running hard in a quest for Olympic glory, the highly anticipated race on the sunny shores of Copacabana beach in Rio went without a hitch and he stormed his way to a silver medal, finishing just behind his older brother and bettering his bronze from London 2012.
It was a crowning moment for the Yorkshire brothers as they stood side by side on the ultimate sporting podium and with the final of the ITU World Triathlon Series still to come, Jonny was hoping to round off the competitive season with a world champion title to cap off a truly spectacular year.
Leading the grand final race in Cozumel with the coveted title well within his reach, an exhausted Jonny faltered just 100m from the line and began to collapse from the heat, forcing Alistair to come to his aid and drag him across the finish, leaving him runner-up and a devastating four points short of world title victory. The images of the brothers in arms made headlines across the world and much to Jonny’s dismay, the event has come to be more well-known than his incredible successes in the sport.
But the unfortunate end to last year’s season has only made the younger Brownlee more determined to come back fighting and he vows to make the headlines for all the right reasons this year, as he eyes world success.
“The aim is very much to become world champion in 2017,” he says. “I will be training hard and I hope to compete in most of the races in the series. To become world champion you have to compete in six of the nine events and one of these has to be the grand final, so realistically I’ll need to make the podium in five of them to take the title.”
“Hopefully by not having the Olympics to worry about, I’ll be able to focus on the series more and I’ll definitely be racing in the events on the Gold Coast and of course in Leeds.”
With the ITU World Series due to kick off in Abu Dhabi on March 3, Jonny has been busy putting in the gruelling hours of training, as he readies himself to take on the arduous journey to the number one spot, resolutely vowing not to repeat the events of that now infamous race in Cozumel.
“It has definitely made me more determined to become world champion because I felt like I lost the championship last year,” he explains. “I feel like I’ve got a lot to prove after what happened in Cozumel and a lot of unfinished business in the sport. I’ve done a lot of tests since then to learn how to prepare better in the heat. Now I have a far better strategy for tackling hot races, so I’ve definitely learned from it and I can’t wait to be on a start line ready to race again.”
And as older brother Alistair is expected to take some time out from Olympic distances to focus on longer races, including Ironman competitions and marathons, Jonny may find himself in the rather unfamiliar position of racing without his brother by his side.
“It will be strange not having him there next to me,” he admits. “It made the whole journey a lot easier, but it might force me to look at new methods of training and realise what’s best for myself.
“I will still have the same strategy in competition, which is to race as aggressively as possible. I really enjoy the hard courses where you’re tested across all three disciplines, so I’m looking forward to Stockholm and especially Leeds.”
Eager to prove he is a formidable opponent in his own right, Jonny is keen to embrace racing without Alistair, but admits their brotherly competitiveness and training together has been the key to his success.
“Having Alistair around as made me very used to a competitive environment and it’s made me love to compete and challenge myself,” he says. “Alistair doesn’t have any weaknesses, so he’s very hard to beat! But we’ve learnt to control our competitiveness in training now, so we work together in hard sessions.
“We were always more competitive away from training really. I remember hitting Alistair over the head with a golf club when we were younger,” he laughs. “He must have been beating me!”
Of course while Jonny may be gunning for the world title alone this year, the pair will both be back in action when the series comes to their home city of Leeds on June 10 and 11. Organised this year by British Triathlon, it promises to be a world class event which will see the elite of the sport battle it out on the Brownlee’s home turf, a prospect the 26-year- old is particularly looking forward to.
A devoutly proud Yorkshireman – who admits to taking a slice of home with him when competing abroad in the form of Yorkshire tea bags – Jonny is keen to beat the field and he’s confident he can make the race his own with the support of the Yorkshire crowd.
“The race in Leeds last year was incredible; it was the best triathlon I’ve ever competed in. I was a massively proud Yorkshireman that day,” he enthuses. “We always have amazing support for events in Yorkshire – just look at the Tour de France – and it was incredible competing in front of such big crowds.
“We had an input into the design of the race last year and we wanted to make it a hard course. We wanted a hill out of the water and the city centre loop to be as technical as possible, as this suited our strengths. Competing again in front of a home crowd will definitely spur me on, so the Leeds leg will be very important and play a significant part in me becoming world champion.”