Brownlee Brothers Exclusive Interview
We joined Alistair and Jonny Brownlee on a Gatorade Hit Squad ride for a chat about their Olympic success, race tactics and the UK triathlon’s future.
The Brownlees are winding down after their Olympic successes (Photo: Simon King | Gatorade)
Following their amazing Olympic triathlon performances, we sat down for a catch-up with the Brownlees in their native Yorkshire. Check out our post-Olympic coverage in issue 45 of Triathlon Plus.
You must be really chuffed with your Olympic medals?
“Yeah we are – obviously it’s great! It’s been a crazy last week though. I never really understood when athletes said ‘it’s not sinking in,’ but it’s not sinking in! You do feel like you’re on a treadmill.”
So has all the extra media attention been difficult?
“Not now, but after the Olympics it honestly did bug me a bit. I thought after we’d finished the Olympics we’d be able to go to the athletes’ village, have a good time, enjoy it, and watch some of the sport. Some of the stuff we got to do was cool though; after we finished the race we were walking over to the BBC studios like little kids thinking, ‘this is pretty cool!’”
“That’s the thing, there was lots of really good stuff and a lot of stuff went a little bit too far and you thought, ‘I want to move on now, it’s been good, but I’ve had enough of this now!’”
“It was good that we got to go on stage: you’d put your arms in the air and everyone would shout and little kids wanted their photo with us. It’s really good for the sport, but at the time I was knackered!”
How was racing in the Olympic triathlon as a team?
“It was really good. The big thing that we didn’t realise going into it was the strength of the team we had. Right from Stu being selected two months before to us having training camps here then going away to St Moritz – through all those things it just felt nice that the three of us were in it together for a common goal.
“We really were a team. For everything before the race; we’d eat together, train together, went to briefings together – it’s been nice to be that part of the team. So at the race we knew we were really in this together.”
What was it hard for Stuart to integrate with you?
“Maybe at the start, but Stu’s a brilliant character. Obviously we tried really hard to make it easy for him and within a few days it worked really well. I’ve known Stu for years; I actually shared a room with him a lot when I was first doing senior races, so I knew him really well already. I think he enjoyed the opportunity to learn from us as well, which is good because he’s been in the sport for 15 years or whatever and he was enjoying learning and training with us, so it worked really well.”
“The thing about Stu is that he loves triathlon. So he turned up for this triathlon saying ‘Wow, look how far triathlon’s gone’. He’s a Londoner as well – it was a big, big moment for him. He was loving it – he couldn’t wait to race.”
“We took a lot of confidence from Kitzbuehel actually, because we both realised it worked very well there – Stu was brilliant – so that was really helpful.”
Alistair and Jonny eschew foreign location, prefering to stay in Yorkshire for most of the year (Photo: Simon King | Gatorade)
With the team working well together, did you talk in detail about tactics beforehand?
“Not too much. We tend to have very standard tactics and not think about it too much because anything can happen in a race. We had a general plan about how we wanted it to go in London and talked about simple things so we could understand each other – signalling and little things like that but nothing too concrete.
“We trusted in all our abilities to race and make decisions on the spot rather than make things too prescriptive and complicated. I think that’s how domestiques have gone wrong in the past – by having too much of a fixed plan that goes wrong.”
“Our plan was very, very simple. We wanted to swim fast, get a group and try and get that group away. There were points – like over the bridge – where we could say a few things to each other – but the rest of the time you literally couldn’t say anything it was so loud. It made it more difficult, but we’re very good at reading each other; we’ve trained together a long time and Stu knew exactly what he had to do without us saying anything.”
What are your thoughts on the Olympic race itself?
“I reckon it’s be the best triathlon ever. I hope there will be other great events still to come, but I don’t think there will be anything like it. That will be the most watched event, the most high-profile triathlon there ever will be. You won’t get a triathlon with half a million people there again.”
“Yesterday was the first time I’d watched the coverage and seeing the shots of the other side of the Serpentine, people just going up and up, 30, 40 people deep up the banks. The crowds were unbelievable, there will never be a triathlon like that again.“
“Some of those people couldn’t even see it and for them to stay around and not think there’s no point being there was amazing. People have come up to me on the street and said that they came all the way down to London to watch it; our running club took 100 people down, so people made a big effort to go. It was incredible.”
The Brownlees are continuing to train hard (Photo: Simon King | Gatorade)
Are you aware of the different level you’re on compared to most other international athletes?
“Not necessarily, that’s how we’d like to put it across though! But no, I don’t think it’s ever been too much like that. They definitely try not to make it like that – if you’re an athlete and you think that, you’re already beaten really.
“We don’t notice what they’re doing, we just get on with our own thing. We had a really funny moment [just before the Olympics] because we were wearing those strange helmets and we knew they were worth 20 watts, so we took them to the briefing two days before the race and you could see everyone thinking, ‘What are they?!’ and we were saying, ‘Oh, we’re 20 watts faster with these on.’ Then on the day before the race, loads of people came down and they had different helmets and that’s half the battle won. They’ve had to go out in two days and find a different helmet. Stu was wearing a full aero helmet and we knew we couldn’t wear those because we didn’t want to up our core temperature before the run. So we’d tried everything out in advance and we were thinking the other athletes can wear those helmets if they want but when they hit the run they’re going to be so hot.”
During the ITU’s broadcast of Kitzbuehel, the commentator described Alistair as ‘pure evil’ – do you deliberately go into races to ‘kill people’?
“I like racing very hard obviously, but everything I do is quite thought out; I only race how I do because it gives me the best chance of winning. That’s important and it’s the reason I do it.
“Kitzbuehel was different because I wanted to put a marker down and destroy people – make people think, ‘Oh f*****g hell!’ I was just trying to race as hard as I could and when I looked back over the last year there’s not actually been many times where I’ve run as fast as I could and that’s what I did.”
“We have very similar strengths and we like similar races. The perfect race for us would be a pack of eight at the front of the bike that stays away and then we can run off it. Because when you do the training the same, you want to race the same.”
Alistair suffered an Achilles injury in February, how did that affect your training relationship?
“I’m used to it now because Alistair gets injuries quite a lot and always at the same time as well. But it was definitely is a bit weird because it just stops overnight; Alistair was doing stacked days of training and then BANG – it just stops and he’s not doing it.
“Alistair finds it hard because I’m still going out training. I know it was hard for him because it was an important year; he was the favourite and everyone said he was going to win the Olympics but he was sat at home not even training.
“Al got a bit moody, but I tried to stay out of his way. We do get quite distant if one of us can’t train. We do fall out a bit more but hopefully it won’t happen again. If Alistair gets injured I can’t do anything right!”
The Brownlees are yet to demolish their celebratory 1kg Dairy Milk bars (Photo: Simon King | Gatorade)
But you still look up to Al – would you say you have a bit of a ‘hero big brother’ complex about him?
“Yeah I definitely do. That might be a weakness because it’s like with a rival; when I first started triathlon and raced Gomez, I thought, ‘I’m never going to beat him!’ and then I beat him once. It’s a bit like that with Alistair: I look up to him and I’m scared of beating him in a way.”
How do you feel now the Olympics are over?
“I’ve got a really weird calmness now. I kind of feel like I don’t care what I do ever again. It’s strange because that Olympics has been there for so long. After winning a world title, another world tile and the Europeans and whatever, the Olympics has been the big thing that everyone’s been talking about – ‘will he win, won’t he win?’ I’ve not got that now and it’s great, but it’s a strange situation to be in. There’s a real emptiness afterwards. I had it a lot last time after the Olympics, but I was younger.
“My passion is in two very different parts. I can get a long way just on purely what I enjoy doing. I genuinely enjoy running and love going out for bike rides, being active and my routine of training; that takes me so far. But that extra 10 per cent of really hard training – that’s what requires a lot of my motivation and at the moment I don’t have the motivation to do that. Especially with the emotional stress of this year – I feel like I’ve used a lot of that up.
“Triathlon is what I love, it’s what I’ve always done and that’s definitely what I want to do over the next few years. But because I’m so passion driven and enjoyment driven, it’s not at all in any way a kind obsession for me – I’m either very on or very off and that’s the way it is. I’ve got nothing to worry about now – it’s brilliant.”
How do you think your successes will affect the future of triathlon in the UK?
“Triathlon is increasing in profile massively anyway. The fact that there were hundreds of thousands of people at the Olympic race is a big thing, it’s fantastic for triathlon, but actually there were lots of people there before that. Triathlon’s big already, bigger than people realise. It’s a good sign though – seven million people watched it on TV and so many of the people we met over the last week have said we’ve inspired them to do a triathlon or take up running, so already it’s driving that kind of participation.
“The next difference is getting kids into it and getting people into it for performance reasons and trying to be the best they can – just having that big base. Everyone talks about legacy now and triathlon’s probably the best sport for that because anyone can go out and do it. Not anyone can go out and row or do heptathlon or box necessarily, but literally anyone – it doesn’t matter what age you are, who you are, where you are, how rich you are – you can go out and do a triathlon if you want to get fit or for a challenge. That’s why it’s fantastic for legacy: you can just go out and do it.”
What’s the next big event looming in your minds?
“Rio, that’s the next big one. The Commonwealths in two years time are important too. So the next four years are pretty busy, then after that who knows.”
The Brownlees are sponsored by Gatorade – find out more at www.gatorade.co.uk/brownlee
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on Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012 at 5:55 pm under Triathlon News.
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