Alistair Brownlee has plenty of history with the Chinese capital of Beijing. He made his breakout elite performance in the city at the 2008 Olympics, where the 20-year-old Yorkshireman bravely took the race to the established field before finishing in 12th as the highest Brit.
He also secured the 2011 ITU World Triathlon Series with a Grand Final victory in Beijing, before storming to a Beijing International Triathlon victory here in 2016.
We caught up with the two-time Olympic champ ahead of this weekend’s Beijing International Triathlon to discuss his Chinese tri memories, his ‘terrible’ year of 2018 and that Ironman 70.3 Worlds showdown with Jan Frodeno…
220: You and Beijing have created some tri moments.
Alistair: It takes me back to the 2008 Olympics being here in Beijing as that was a really special time for me. Going to your first Olympics is really exciting, but it feels like a long time ago now.
It’s surprised me how many of the age-group field here at the Beijing International Triathlon are domestic triathletes. I even met an athlete earlier who’d come from Taiwan to see you race.
In 2008, triathlon wasn’t on the radar in China at all so to have 2,000 people racing here tomorrow is testament to the sport. And it’s amazing that some people from the region, some of whom don’t speak any English, know who I am now.
The Beijing International offers a rare non-drafting Olympic-distance bike course. Is that a draw of racing here?
There used to be a lot of non-drafting Olympic races, back in the Des Moines days, and it’s enjoyable to be able to mix up different kinds of racing. I’ve spent the last couple of seasons not being committed to the World Tri Series and being flexible to mix up my racing.
That was a stunning race in South Africa at the Ironman 70.3 Worlds (where Ali came second behind Jan Frodeno in early September). How do you look back on that experience?
I was really pleased with that race as I’ve had a terrible year with all different kinds of things, but I threw everything at it in the weeks before and on the day I couldn’t have hoped for a better performance. Obviously I wasn’t immensely happy with the result, but knowing there’s nothing more you can do on the day is all you can do. It’s taken me a long time to recover from that race.
Can you elaborate on what’s been tough this season?
I had an operation on my hip this time last year and that worked well, but it’s tough to return and get your body going again after that much time out. That was mentally tough to have one thing after another happening when all you want to do is go out and train as hard as you can.
You have been training and racing hard for a long time now…
I definitely think there’s a degree of wear and tear. I remember saying in interviews about 10 years ago that ‘I’d prefer to be the best I could ever be and train as hard as I can, even if it shortens my career’. When you say that as a rather confident 20-year-old, you never think it’ll actually shorten your career but I have some perspective on that now.