Ahead of this weekend’s ITU World Triathlon Series race in Leeds, the city has been decorated with images of Alistair and Jonny Brownlee, Non Stanford and Vicky Holland. You can’t walk around a corner without seeing a giant Brownlee billboard; tri has already taken over the city. So the setting was apt for the official announcement of the six-strong British team for the Rio Olympic Games in August.
Given we already know the women’s team of this issue’s cover stars Non Stanford and Vicky Holland, plus Helen Jenkins in her third Olympic Games, the big news of the day was who will join the Brownlees in the British men’s team.
The B’s of Adam Bowden, Tom Bishop, Mark Buckingham and Gordon Benson were just a quartet of athletes vying for what’s likely to be a domestique/supporting slot, and it was announced here today that the Leeds-based Gordon Benson would take the honour as the Brownlee’s wingman come the 18th of August on the Brazilian starting pontoon. Thus making it a Yorkshire 1, 2 and 3 for the Brit men’s team.
“I told my mum the news and i think she cried,” said Benson. “There was an opportunity there for a support athlete in the squad but I didn’t want to waste two seasons and not qualify for the role, so I’ve raced as I normally would. Support athletes were a massive influence for me in my races, like at the European Games at Baku. Now I’ve focussed more of my training on the swim and bike disciplines, and it’s paid off. I’m still only 22 and have only just finished my uni degree in nutrition, which has actually been a nice distraction from tri.”
WHO IS GORDON BENSON?
The 22-year-old Benson was voted the British Triathlon Male Elite Junior Triathlete of the Year in both 2011 and 2012. Benson won the 2015 European Games in Baku and has scored plenty of European Cup and Championship success as a junior.
The domestique role was filled by Brit veteran Stuart Hayes at the London Games in 2012, who successfully dictated the pace on the bike to provide a platform for Alistair’s gold and Jonny’s bronze-winning performances. Benson cites running as his strongest discipline, but the 6ft 3in tall Yorkshireman has obviously done enough in his ITU races (including at Yokohama this year) to suggest to the selectors that he’s got enough speed on the swim and bike to keep pace with the leading pack in Rio.
Speaking at today’s launch, Mark England, the Chef de Mission of Team GB’s Rio charge, said that the 350 athletes Britain is taking to South America is “the most talented team we’ve ever taken away,” and this certainly applies to the Brit tri squad, which – from the experience of Jenkins to the rising force of Vicky Holland, a fit Non Stanford and, of course, the Brownlees – has five feasible medal contenders in its ranks.
What the athletes said:
Jonny: “There was huge pressure ahead of London, we countdown clocks telling you there were 81 days to go and things like that. So Rio won’t have that element and we’re ready for it. The hilly and technical bike course suits our skills more than the flat and fast London route.
Alistair: No one has raced to the level of London 2012 since then, but I can see the same three on the podium. Seeing myself on the posters and billboards around Leeds is a bit embarrassing, I’m not a huge fan of seeing myself up there and I’m getting plenty of abuse from my mates!
We didn’t have any input on Gordon’s inclusion as such but we’re really happy for him on a personal and professional level. He’s a Leeds United fan so will have plenty to talk about with Jonny. He’s someone we’ve trained with for 10 years and he’s a Leeds lad, and he’s worked really hard for it. We push each other on in training. And he proved how much he’s progressed by coming out of the swim high up at WTS Yokohama. I see a similar role for him as Stu Hayes played in London.”
Vicky: “It’s good to be formally announced at last. It was great to qualify with Non at the same time, as it would’ve been tough for one of us to have been celebrating the achievement and the other knowing they’ve still got to qualify. We could then relax and have the same build-up together. It’s turning into a Leeds takeover, which is testament to the set-up they have here.
Non: Today makes it all a bit more real. I’ve never been to an Olympics before and this brings it home. It’s exciting and special to be a part of a golden year for British triathlon. The British team send medal contenders and the objective is to win medals.
Helen: “I’m the odd one out with five out of six Leeds-based athletes in the squad! Sometimes I struggle to understand Gordon when I’m tired but it’s all good fun. And it’s a testament to how strong the set-up is here, and the facilities have developed around the Brownlees.
“Yet I’ve always been based in Wales and that’s what I know and what works for me. I’m not racing this weekend and I really wanted to, but I need some downtime. I peaked in April, so I can’t maintain that until August. I’ll race Stockholm next with Non and Vicky, it’s so exciting to be part of such a strong team and it almost takes the pressure off a bit.