Alistair and Jonny Brownlee talk potential Olympic changes, TUEs and SPOTY

The Brownlee brothers talk to Tim Heming about potential Olympic race format changes and additions, TUEs, riding the Tour de France and who should win the BBC Sports Personality of the Year

Jonny and Alistair Brownlee at Rio 2016 Olympics

Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee picked up yet more silverware at the British Triathlon Association’s star-studded awards bash in Leeds on Saturday night. Our columnist Tim Heming gave them a break from signing autographs, posing for photographs, and talking about that race in Cozumel, for a candid interview covering potential Olympic race format changes and additions, TUEs, riding the Tour de France and who should win the BBC Sports Personality of the year.


[ITU president] Marisol Casado has just told me that she, personally, would like to see the individual race be sprint distance in the Olympics. Your immediate impressions?

Jonny: One of the great things about triathlon is it is a really hard event, pushing you to your absolute limit. I believe [the current] Olympic distance does that. A 1.5km swim, a 40km bike and a 10km run is a true test of all three sports. There have been rumours for a long time and, in a way, sprint races can be an all-round triathlon test. If you are not a good swimmer, there is less time to make the gap up. But I think it will take that real tough endurance element out and will change the sport.

Alistair: It’s quicker and more dynamic from a spectator point of view, but I’ve lost count of the number of people who come up to me and say, Wow, it’s the toughness of triathlon that appeals. It’d be a real shame to lose that.

Say it came in for Tokyo in 2020, given you’ll both be four years older [Alistair will be 32, Jonny, 30], would it be detrimental to your chances?

Alistair: Sprint races tend to be fast, raced right from the start and split up quite a lot. There’s talk that it might be heats and finals, so you’d get a smaller field in the final which is massively advantageous to the way we race. So, you can argue it both ways.

If the decision to revert from standard distance to sprint distance is mandatory to guarantee the inclusion of the mixed relay in Tokyo [the same format as showcased at the 2014 Commonwealth Games to wide appeal and which the ITU is now championing to be included in Tokyo 2020], would you be happy? Or would you rather keep the individual race as it is and forgo the chance of a relay medal?

Jonny: I don’t like change. I’d say keep the Olympic distance as I want triathlon to be a true test of endurance ability. I really like the idea of two medals, and the ideal situation would be to have Olympic distance and relay.

Alistair: My personal preference is one Olympic distance race, but for the sport of triathlon, I’d pick two events every day of the week, and I don’t think you’d find anyone to argue.

What are your thoughts on the mixed relay?

Alistair: I think it’s fantastic. It intrigues people who have never watched triathlon before. But I would say that if the relay is the short, interesting thing for spectators, why do you need to make the Olympic distance into a sprint? You’ve got this commercial carrot, so leave the Olympic distance be.

Jonny: It’s great to race from an athlete’s point of view. Every time we have done it we’ve loved it, including the flying dives into the water. It epitomises the Olympic spirit of everyone – males and females – together.

Would you have started had there been a mixed relay in London 2012 two days after you’d been taken away in a wheelchair [having won bronze]?

Jonny: I would have been alright and pulled round. But if the team doctor said I couldn’t race, there’s no way I’d do it.

If the format included heats and a final, how far apart would you like them spaced?

Alistair: I’d ask to race morning then afternoon! But you could do it day to day. Adding heats would be quite a clever move. Include the relay, and all of a sudden you have seven races. In terms of access to triathlon, it’s probably a good thing.

Are you fed up at being asked about Cozumel [the World Series Grand Final where Jonny was within a few hundred metres of winning the world title but had to be carried over the line by Alistair]?

Alistair: I’ve been asked it a few times.

Jonny: Pretty fed up. It’s really weird to get more recognition for ‘ballsing’ up a race than winning a world title.

Aren’t you being a little harsh on yourself?

Jonny: I should have saved my kick until 3km to go.

But you must have felt good at the time to go earlier? 

Jonny: Yes. With five minutes to go, it was fine. Four minutes to go, wait a minute, three minutes to go, I’m in trouble here, two minutes to go, I’m in serious trouble…

WTS Cozumel: all the drama and emotion in pictures

Did it scare you? 

Jonny: One of the first things I did was check the weather in Tokyo to see how hot it would be at that time of year, so that shows it did scare me. I’m now going to Portsmouth to get some tests done, but in many ways, it’s easier for your body to take [heat exhaustion] than when you push yourself to the limit and you are really hurting.

Alistair Brownlee says critics “don’t understand” heat exhaustion after WTS Cozumel heroics

Have you spoken to Javier Gomez since Rio?

Alistair: He emailed me to say well done, but I’ve not seen him in person.

How do you think you’d fare riding in the Tour de France?

Alistair: It’s difficult to say. I think I could complete long tours as a cyclist, but I don’t think I’d be anywhere near the front of the field. I think I could do a job, but that’s not really my thing.

Jonny: It’s so hard to say unless you do it. I’d be far better in a grand tour than in British domestic races. I’d be useless in a crit as I don’t have the power. But in a grand tour with big, long climbs? I wouldn’t know until tried, but I’d have to do some real serious power testing first.

Should TUEs be transparent for all conditions (ie. asthma) unless they are highly sensitive (ie. sexually transmitted infections)?

Jonny: For me it would be fine, as I’ve only had two retrospective TUES both for IV drips after races. And that was right. We don’t want the situation of questioning whether we can give triathletes IV drips, making phone-calls for approval while they suffer for half-an-hour.

Alistair: I would love to see an asthma drug be transparent, but I think that line becomes so arbitrary as there are things we know are embarrassing. If you [confidentially] took a drug for a heart complaint that you did not want your work colleagues to know about, then why should an athlete [disclose the same medication]?

TUEs and their use in sport

Exercise-induced asthma explained

Because you want to win a gold medal.

Alistair: Are you saying that just because you want to win a gold medal, you should jump through hoops that no-one else would have to.

I’m asking you?

Alistair: I would, but I wouldn’t impose that on everyone else. I think that then starts to violate your rights as a human being. Personally, I’ll happily release my TUES.

Don’t endurance sports that are more open to be manipulated by doping have to go above and beyond?

Alistair: Yes, but sometimes you have to take a step back and say there is a human aspect to this. Human beings have unforeseen problems they do not want to put out in public.

Are there any races you are definitely doing in 2017?

Alistair: Leeds World Series.

Who should win BBC Sports Personality of the Year?

Jonny: I’d like to see Alistair win it.

Alistair: This is a difficult one. [Wimbledon, Olympic champion and new tennis world number one] Andy Murray has been amazing this year. For an athletic achievement, I think what Mo has done is outstanding. Maybe it’s because I come from endurance sport, but winning the 5km and 10km twice in what I think are two of the most hardcore events is undervalued.

Could the Brownlee Brothers win team of the year?


Alistair: No because I think it is very competitive. I think the GB Olympic team as a whole, and Leicester City, are very strong prospects.

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