Jess Learmonth: Background, career highlights, quotes

She's one of the world's fastest female triathlon swimmers, a regular on the World Triathlon and Super League podiums, and an Olympic gold medallist. Here's everything you need to know about Leeds' finest female export, Jess Learmonth…

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - AUGUST 09:  Jess Learmonth of Great Britain competes during the women's triathlon on Day eight of the European Championships Glasgow 2018 at Strathclyde Country Park on August 9, 2018 in Glasgow, Scotland. This event forms part of the first multi-sport European Championships.  (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

A late starter when it came to triathlon, Jess Learmonth has certainly made up for lost time over the past few years.

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A solid performer in both World Triathlon and Super League racing, it was at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 that she made an impression beyond triathlon circles, as part of Britain’s gold-winning mixed relay quartet. Her performance that day earned her another gong; in 2022, Learmonth was made an MBE.

A new mum, Jess is now planning to make her second Olympic team at the 2024 Paris Games. Here’s how she rose to the top of the GB women’s ranks…

Who is Jess Learmonth?

A native of nearby Tadcaster, Learmonth is another world-class athlete based at the school of excellence that is Leeds Triathlon Centre. However, this is no triathlete who strode along the usual route to global success, working her way through the junior ranks. Learmonth didn’t take up the sport until her mid-20s.

Her belated entry into triathlon has meant a rapid, near-vertical ascent from supermarket worker to Olympic gold medallist. The winner of national swimming titles in her teens, Learmonth turned her back on the pool, taking up golf instead, as well as playing football with Leeds United Ladies Academy.

Being a sporting polymath meant the multiple disciplines of triathlon eventually appealed; indeed, her high-level swimming experience means it’s rare she’s not first out of the water in a race.

Learmonth won the national sprint championships in 2016, before being crowned European champion the following year. Then came a pair of silver medals at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, including one in the mixed relay, an event that would later take a significant role in her career.

Learmonth grew to be one of the most consistent competitors in World Series Triathlon; from 2019 onwards, she’s been a podium regular. But, despite 10 top-three finishes from Bermuda to Abu Dhabi, that first WTS race win continues to elude her.

A keen participant in Super League Triathlon, Learmonth won three of the four races in the 2021 competition, but a fourth-place in the final race in Malibu meant her great pal Georgia Taylor-Brown pipped her to the title.

By then though, Learmonth was already an Olympic gold medallist, the GB mixed relay squad having triumphed in Tokyo the previous month and where she’d finished a solid ninth in the individual event.

Injury and then a surprise pregnancy has seen Jess off the circuit since May 2022. In September, she announced the safe arrival of her son Frederick.

How old is Jess Learmonth?

Jess Learmonth was born on 18 April 1988, making her 35 years of age.

Jess Learmonth’s career highlights

Action shot during AJ Bell 2021 World Triathlon Championship Series at Roundhay Park, Leeds, England on 6th June 2021.
Jess Learmonth running behind Sophie Coldwell at the 2021 World Triathlon Championship Series Leeds, on 6 June 2021. Credit: Ben Lumley/World Triathlon

April 2016: The race that announced her arrival

Just four years after taking up the sport, Learmonth takes a significant elite victory when she wins the European Cup race in Quarteira, on Portugal’s Algarve coast.

August 2016: Her first national crown

At the age of 28, Learmonth becomes the UK sprint champion in Liverpool, after leading the race right from the gun.

June 2017: The national champ becomes a continental champ

Learmonth’s star continues to rise spectacularly when, in the Austrian town of Kitzbühel, she takes the European crown, coming home, ahead of second-placed compatriot Sophie Coldwell, with 15 seconds to spare.

April 2018: A brace of silver medals at the Commonwealths

Jess Learmonth racing the 2018 Commonwealths in Gold Coast, Australia. ITU Media/Delly Carr

Learmonth scores a terrific silver at the Commonwealth Games on Australia’s Gold Coast behind Bermuda’s Flora Duffy.

Among the heavily decorated athletes that she beats are New Zealander Andrea Hewitt and Australian Ashleigh Gentle, along with compatriots Non Stanford and future world champion Vicky Holland. Two days later, Learmonth takes another silver in the mixed relay.

August 2019: Learmonth and pal Taylor-Brown are kicked off Tokyo race

Learmonth and team-mate Georgia Taylor-Brown are both disqualified from the World Triathlon Olympic Qualification event in Tokyo for holding hands as they crossed the line.

The rule they broke states that “athletes who finish in a contrived tie situation, where no effort to separate their finish times has been made, will be disqualified”.

August 2019: Another silver – this time as WTS series runner-up

From L-R: Jess Learmonth, Katie Zaferes and Georgia Taylor-Brown on the podium at the 2019 ITU World Triathlon Grand Final Lausanne. Credit: Wagner Araujo/ITU Media

A second place in Lausanne at the WTS Grand Final behind Katie Zafares of the USA earns Learmonth a series silver after an extremely consistent season in which she also finished second in Bermuda, along with podium finishes in Abu Dhabi, Leeds and Montreal.

August 2020: Returns to racing with an indoor victory

A ruthless performance at the inaugural Super League Arena Games in Rotterdam sees Learmonth win every leg of the Triple Mix event to take the title ahead of Georgia Taylor-Brown and Anne Haug.

June 2021: Yet another silver lining

Life of a triathlon bridesmaid continues for Learmonth as she records her latest runner’s-up performance on her home turf of Leeds.

This is her 10th WTS podium finish, but she is still yet to break that career-long duck of wins in the series.

July 2021: Mixed emotions in Tokyo

Jess Learmonth racing the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, where she would finish ninth in the individual event. Credit: Wagner Araujo/World Triathlon

At the delayed-by-a-year 2020 Olympics, Learmonth finishes in ninth place in the individual event before, four days later, forming one quarter of the GB mixed relay team (alongside Taylor-Brown, Jonny Brownlee and Alex Yee) that cruise to a magnificent golden performance.

January 2022: A day at the Palace awaits

Six months after scooping Olympic gold, the former supermarket worker is made an MBE.

March 2022: A bronze 70.3 debut

Jess finishes third in her first Ironman 70.3 debut in Lanzarote with a time of 4:23:44, behind Kat Matthews in 4:17:46 and the 2019 Ironman champion Anne Haug (4:21:2).

June 2022: Injury curtails the season

A hip injury rears its season-ending head, meaning Jess has to say goodbye to racing the last WTCS race in Leeds and a chance to medal again at the Commonwealths.

September 2023: Little Learmonth arrives!

Jess announces the birth of her first son, Frederick, with husband Jon.

Jess Learmonth quotes

On taking up triathlon relatively late in life at the age of 24: “I’ve gone from working in a supermarket, having never done a triathlon, to competing with the best in the world and trying to get into the Olympics. Madness!”

On competing on home turf: “Leeds is a great city and it has triathlon at its heart. It’s by far my favourite event on the ITU circuit and the crowds are probably the best too.”

On crossing the line hand-in-hand with Georgia Taylor-Brown, shortly before their joint disqualification: “Couldn’t have dreamt of taking the tape with G. Feel we showcased our sport in the right way, hopefully showing young athletes it’s not always dog eat dog.”

What’s next for Jess Learmonth?

Adjusting to mum life and training to qualify for the GB Olympic triathlon team for the 2024 Paris Games.

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Top image credit: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images