Alistair Brownlee – On the verge of greatnes
Your 2011 season was nothing short of brilliant, but the opening in Sydney didn’t quite go to plan – you were in great position until your fall. How to you react when something completely random happens during a race?
Well it was actually very easy with anything out of your control. I really felt like things went against me in that way, things out of my control, worrying too much that it was a bad result and there’s obscure things, I felt like I wasn’t quite in the shape I’d like be in for that race and that kind of thing as well. I knew there was times where I was in for that position for that time of year and it was very early for me to start racing. I’ve never done that before and so I just wanted to get home then go have some training, I was pretty confident I’d be alright.
You certainly made up for it. After Sydney, your season was basically a series of highs. Javier Gomez, arguably your greatest threat going into London next year, said post Madrid that “you guys (Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee) were just on a different level and you were just too fast and I couldn’t do too much”.
How does hearing these comments from your chief competitors make you feel?
That was actually amazing. I think Madrid was a real special race for both of us, it was a breakthrough race in terms of performance for both of us I think and just to have him (Gomez) realise, he’s actually really honest. Very few athletes are like him to admit “I had a great race today, I was in as good a form as I could have been and I still got beaten”. You’ve got to give him loads of respect for coming out and saying things like that, he’s really one of the only people I’ve ever heard do it. It makes you proud really and I think it just added to the fact that he knew his race well.
You have a ‘full gas’ approach to your racing – there doesn’t seem to be any let up from your tempo. When you’re breaking away or going up the road with two or three guys and there’s 50 just watching each other, how do you do that? Do you purposely go out to ride as hard as you can early, or is the race just unfolding in your favour?
I suppose it’s more going on during the race, I don’t plan before the race. I think “right” and then I make an attack here or there, or “I’m going to attack as many times as I can until I can get up the front”. Purely opportunist behaviour really. At times I’ve tried different ways to control races. In Madrid you can afford to control a race with a sledge hammer and just go for it, whereas in other races like London *, we do that, but it’s easier just to ride on the back of packs and keep fresh. It’s opportunist really; in an effort to control the race you’re kind of jumping around and trying to not let people go away.
One of the big stories in Australia this year has been Chris McCormack migrating from Ironman into the ITU World. How have you seen his year?
I haven’t actually seen him in a race. Good on him, full respect for giving it a go. I don’t know what he expected and what he hoped to get out of it, but it’s not easy to come back from Ironman and race, especially with the kind of name he’s got so, good on him for giving it a go.
Do you see McCormack as a threat come race day?
Everyone’s a threat in triathlon, but no there’s a lot of other guys I’d worry about before him to be honest. I actually don’t think I’ve seen him in a race this year. There’s so many fantastic athletes at the moment and like you said, Gomez is the guy to watch at the moment and that’s enough to keep an eye on.
Macca recently characterised your style as being "old school, through and through in terms of triathlon”. Would you say that your approach is "old school"?
I don’t even know what he means by that. I think in some respects we are "old school" as he put it. We probably work quite hard, we do a lot of time, a lot of miles, a lot of distance and we put a lot of energy into it like that, but I think in lots of ways we’re probably quite new as well. We spend a lot of time working on both technical and tactical elements. We try and make ourselves very dynamic, we’re good at that tactical aspect and think "how we can win races" and "how we can speed up on the run" and all those kinds of things. I think that’s probably kind of a new edge to triathlon.
Speaking of your tactical approach, a number of people have commented that you’re quite vocal in the group and demonstrative about how you present yourself at races. Is that all part of the plan, to use as many tactics as you can off the course as well as on the course?
No, not at all, I’m not giving a single second of thought to tactics off the course. No, absolutely not. I absolutely just get on with racing and there’s nothing more to it as far as I’m concerned.
In triathlon, all the favourites who’ve ever been touted in Olympics, have failed to succeed. You’ve got guys like Simon Lessing, Peter Robinson in Athens, Gomez in Beijing. How are you going to a) get the result that you need and b) how are you going to deal with the pressure leading into the London Olympics?
I’ve got no idea. I’m just kind of hoping that it follows what I’ve been doing before, either stupidly or arrogantly or whatever. If I get to the same position that I’ve been in last year, that would be good enough to win a medal or win the race, so that’s really just all I’m aiming to do at the moment. Go through the motions of winter training and then build up from the lead up to the race and then hopefully that’ll be good enough. As far as the pressure’s concerned, pressure’s only pressure. It’s not rare, it’s not a physical problem like an injury or an illness, so I’ll hopefully cope with it as it comes. But yeah, I think it’s getting critical, especially in a couple of months, in the lead up. We’re already really on it in Britain. It’s exciting, just so many people interested in sport and asking about it all the time.
Great Britain triathlon – yourself, your brother, Helen Jenkins, Chrissie Wellington, Leanda Cave, Rachel Joyce and those sorts of people – you guys have just come on leaps and bounds. Can you put your finger on why the GBR team, both ITU and long course, are so powerful?
You definitely can’t put your finger on one factor. The reason that Jonathan (Brownlee) and me is doing well, is a million miles away from why Chrissie is doing well, or even Helen really. As far as triathletes got a profile in Britain, but they’re still not a patch on what it is in Australia and it was quite a good program but that’s definitely not the reason why Helen, John and me have had the success we’ve had, it’s part of it, but that’s not all of it. Like Chrissie has actually nothing to do with the National Federation so I’m thinking it’s just a cycle you kind of see it in all sorts of sports don’t you? You have a generation of athletes that come through and do well for a period of time and someone cuts it out on then someone achieves the level and it’s all about doing it to that level so I think that’s what it is at the moment.
Are you someone who keeps tabs on your opposition? Do you follow the internet, keep track of what other people are doing race wise or follow them to see what’s going on, or do you just roll up thinking that it’s their job to follow you?
No, I don’t really follow people that much. I never really go out of my way to follow triathlon massively. I enjoy watching it, and I watch stuff like Ironman a bit although I didn’t stay up into the middle of the night to watch it. I’m not a massive follower of it.
If we see you winning gold in London next year and fulfilling, I guess, what you’ve been promising for the last couple of years, would you be tempted to step up distance and race something longer?
Yeah, definitely. I’m not sure how quickly I’d do it but yeah, I think the Olympics has been the big thing for me and especially with it being home and the last few years I’ve had, just makes you wonder, well I’ll definitely be tempted. I think it would be great to see if a good athlete moved up, didn’t wait until he was in his 30s and moved up in his mid 20s, late 20s to see what he could really achieve at Ironman, I think what we’re seeing now is you see the best guys win or do well, apart from this year, that do very well in the Tour De France here, 24, 25 and Mark the World Record Holder is 25. And I think it’s really the endurance sport has changed a lot. I think if we move up early and really go for it, I think you’d see massive changes in Ironman.
Lastly, if you weren’t being a triathlete, what would be another sporting career path for you?
I honestly don’t know what I’d be doing. I’d like to think I’d probably be running or cycling or doing something active but yeah, I really don’t know. I always ran a lot and even raced my bike a little bit, but I’d like to do that more but I really don’t know.