220 Triathlon columnist Tim Heming caught up with the Leeds-based swim, bike, and run star to find out why we haven’t seen her racing World Triathlon events this season, how preparations are going for Tokyo, and how her friendship with team-mate Jess Learmonth might prove pivotal to Team GB’s medal hopes.
Having now picked up your official Team GB Olympic kit, does the prospect of Tokyo finally feel real?
Yes, very real. I think there was a realisation that I’ve got the kit now, this is it – it’s actually happening. Once I get to Tokyo I think the nerves will kick in, but I’m still excited right now.
How long has the Olympics been a dream for you?
From a young age. I’ve still got an ‘All About Me’ PowerPoint presentation I made for my parents in primary school. It names my favourite colour and my best friend, and there’s a hobby section that says: “I love swimming and cycling and running and one day maybe I could be a triathlete and go to the Commonwealth Games! Or the Olympics! And maybe win a medal!”
So, from the age of 10, it’s been a dream of mine. I set my goals high, but I guess that’s what happens when you come from a very sporty family. We’ve always followed the Olympics and watched every sport we possibly could.
The realisation I might actually go was around 2013 when I was doing well as a junior. At that point I thought, “2016 it is, I’m going to Rio!”, but then I got injured and that dream was crushed. I changed goals and aimed for 2020. It’s now 2021, although, on our kit it’s all 2020 – everything was made years ago, and they can’t really change it now!
Does having parents that played sport to a high level help? [Georgia’s dad was a GB track athlete and her mum a national level swimmer]
I don’t know if it makes it easier or more difficult. Jess, for example, doesn’t come from a sporty family. She just took up triathlon at 23, I believe. She’s travelled, worked in Sainsbury’s and had a normal life, so now feels lucky to have sport as her job and something she loves doing.
I’ve always been in sport and don’t know anything different. It’ll be strange for me to go into the real world. I’ve always been known as the sporty one in my family. They love that I do sport and they’re always so interested and asking me about it.
I also think it’s nice that my parents can see that the hours they spent with me as a kid and all the money they spent on swimming lessons has been worthwhile. They gave me the opportunity and it’s kind of paid off, but really they’re just happy to see me happy.
I’ve three sisters, aged 34, 23 and 14. We were all given the opportunity from a young age to try what we wanted, and I just loved tri and it made me happy. I was good at it, so I guess that helped.
My eldest sister is the complete opposite to me. She dropped out of sport at about 16, when she found boys, drinking and going out and all that. The last sports event she did was a track race and by that point she’d started smoking. I think it was a 1,500m race and after about 400m she just pulled into the middle of the track. That’s how I remember my elder sister’s sporting career ending!
My sister who is 23 quit to pursue her studies. She enjoyed the academic side more. My younger sister does every sport you could imagine. She loves tri, but is really into skateboarding and football. She’s good at everything. She’s so clever as well. It’s really annoying.
Although the world’s a different place now, what did you learn from your Tokyo test event experience in 2019? [Taylor-Brown crossed the line joint-first but was later disqualified for a contrived finish]
It was a good chance to see the course. That’s quite an obvious thing to say, but it’s quite a technical course, some of the corners are sweeping, some are quite tight and narrow. But I think the biggest thing was to see outside of the venue: where we’ll be staying, how far it’s away from the course, how easy it is to get to the course on race day. Knowing that is quite a big thing to calm the nerves.
You have to be there to understand how hot and humid it is – we were hearing all sorts of numbers before we got there. We prepped really well and got our heat acclimation right. We spent quite a bit of time on it, and it definitely worked. We just need to mimic it and I think that’s half the battle won.
If you can acclimatise well enough to the conditions, you can be fit enough to get through the race. That’s all you really need because it’s going to be so hot and humid it’s not like it’ll be superfast. When you race in the heat, if you do a tiny spike of effort out of a dead turn, your core temperature instantly goes up. I want to avoid doing that so it’s practice and just being smart.
I took a core temperature pill for the test event and think I got to 39.9 degrees. So quite hot, especially when my starting temperature is normally 36.6-36.7. Saying that, I felt okay after the race. I don’t know whether that was adrenaline kicking in and making me think I was okay, but I felt as if I handled it fairly well.
How do you feel about the strict Covid compliance measures that will be in place?
I feel okay about it. I think it’ll be better than Yokohama WTCS because we have Team GB and the British Olympic Association handling everything, and I trust they have everything in place. It’s just a small group of us as well, which makes everything a bit easier.
It’s something we’ve just got to get used to. It’s not like I usually go to a race and am out and about sightseeing. We fly into a city, go to a hotel, train a little bit and then we’re just in our hotel rooms most of the time anyway. So, it’s actually not too dissimilar. I guess it’s just adding in Covid tests. Everyone is in the same position.
How do you feel about being the world champion going in? [Taylor-Brown won the title in Hamburg last summer]
Maybe it puts a little bit more pressure on me because people will pin me as one of the favourites, but I try not to think about it too much.
I put pressure on myself every race. Whether I’m ranked first or 50th, I expect a lot of myself because I sacrificed quite a lot in my life to be able to have triathlon as my job.
I know what I need to do. I do triathlon every single day and I know how to prepare.
I remember in my swimming days, I used to get so upset if I didn’t get a PB. One of the girls’ mums would say: “You’re not a robot, you cannot just perform every single time.” That’s always stuck in my head. I think: “Yeah, I’m not a robot, I’m not programmed to just perform well all the time.”
Every day is so different. I have to make sure I’m giving it my all, I’ve emptied the tank when I cross the finish line and whatever happens happens.
How much help is it having Jess on the team too?
It will help a lot. We were talking about this the other day. I don’t know what I’d do if we weren’t going together. I rely on her so much to tell me where to be and what we’re doing. She plans everything.
Whatever she’s doing, I’ll say: ‘Yeah, that sounds fine, let’s do that.’ It would be really weird if she wasn’t there. She’s so chilled as well. We both just think: ‘Let’s get it done then. We know what we need to do.’
As we leave the hotel room we say that by the time we’re back in here, we’ll be finished. It’s nice to have her there and we help calm each other down.
Jess also performed spectacularly well in finishing runner-up on her return to the World Series in Leeds. Did you watch the event and what did you make of it?
I did watch and I was so happy, I nearly cried. It’s been a bit of a rocky year for her, so I’m happy to see her do well. Jess is so negative before racing! I tell her she’s amazing, but she doesn’t believe anything I say!
We’ve not seen you in action since the London Arena Games. Why was that and are you concerned about the lack of racing?
I was never going to race Yokohama. We were already going to Tokyo for the Games, and we decided as a group, me, Vicky [Holland] and Jess, that the risk definitely outweighed the positives. I was going to race the Lisbon World Cup, but I got a cold beforehand.
I thought I’d take a few days off and would be fine to do Leeds, but it was lingering, and I hadn’t done any hard sessions so thought it’s not worth doing a two-hour race and put myself into more of a hole.
It was a hard decision because it was 20mins down the road and it would have been so nice to race Leeds again [Taylor-Brown won her first World Series race in Leeds in 2019], and it meant I won’t be racing before Tokyo.
I can do race simulation in training so it’s not the end of the world if I didn’t race, but it’ll have to be beginner’s luck for me going into Tokyo.
What will the final preparations look like between now and Tokyo?
Just staying at home. I’ve never been to altitude. It’s something I’d like to try, but probably best not to in Olympic year. I’m staying home, staying healthy and getting the final few touches in.
When I go away, it’ll be for about a month and even after the Games, it’s full on because we’ve got a whole season, which is unusual. So, I’m trying to spend as much time at home as possible, just doing my training and heat acclimation. That’s it really, it’s quite a boring life.
Do you know if you’ll be racing in the mixed team relay or how the decision will be made?
It’ll be how we plan every relay – we’ll see who performs the best in the individual event and how we pull up afterwards. Even if you won the individual race but it’s taken quite a lot out of you, you’d maybe look at the other two athletes.
Right now, I know I’ll be racing the individual but don’t know I’ll definitely be racing the relay. It’ll just be a bonus, and we’ve got a pretty good team anyway!
Form has been hard to judge over the past 12 months. Who do you see as the main threats?
Flora Duffy. She’s a big one. You can’t write off Nicola Spirig either. She always comes to form in Olympic year. Obviously, there’s Jess and Vicky. Ashleigh Gentle hasn’t raced so we don’t know how she’s going, but if she’s there off the bike it’s hard to outrun her. Summer Rappaport… if you come off the bike with her, she’s a superfast runner too.
It kind of all comes down to the run and the fast runners aren’t always the fastest bikers, so I guess that’s where we have to try and get rid of a few of the fast runners.
In tri you can’t really write it as it’s so up and down, and dependent on tactics. Who’s there out of the water. There might be a break. There might not be a break. It might all come back together and be a running race. You can’t write a formula.
I’d like a repeat of the Tokyo test event in 2019, minus the disqualification. That would be perfect.
Final one, given handholding is banned, do you have any other celebrations planned if it does all fall into place?
I definitely don’t plan celebrations. When I won in Leeds, I think I cried, so I’ll probably cry. If Jess wins, I’ll definitely cry.
Don’t miss the ‘220 guide to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics’, on sale 8 July. Our 17-page section include essential viewing information, course routes, Team GB profiles, and our pick of the top individual and mixed relay contenders. Plus, we countdown the top 20 Olympic triathlon moments and speak exclusively to two-time Olympic gold medallist Alistair Brownlee about his new book, Relentless: Secrets of the Sporting Elite.