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Alistair Brownlee: “I’ve definitely been to my last Olympics”

Alistair Brownlee chatted exclusively to RadioTimes.com about missing the Olympics, sporting inspirations and Ronnie O'Sullivan's mum's lasagne.

Alistair Brownlee Big RT Interview

The Tokyo Olympic Games may be in their fledgling days, but it’s the end of an era for Team GB without Alistair Brownlee among its ranks.

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The Brownlee brothers – Alistair and Jonny – have been superb and successful representatives for Britain throughout their esteemed careers, though their legacy moment is not one of all-conquering success, but of the former forgoing a shot at glory to bundle the latter brother over the line in a World Series event.

Now, for the first time since 2008, the brothers will be separated for an Olympic Games. Jonny, in Tokyo gunning for gold, Alistair, at home after failing to qualify for the two-man team. Alex Yee will occupy the second slot.

The 33-year-old had been suffering from months of injuries, hampering his push for the Olympic team, and his final chance went up in smoke as he was disqualified from an event in his hometown, Leeds, for allegedly ‘ducking’ (pushing) a rival during the swim. Alistair claims it was an accidental collision.

In an exclusive chat with RadioTimes.com, Brownlee has confirmed what many had suspected: “I’ve been to my last Olympic Games. I definitely won’t be competing in Paris [2024].

“I absolutely love the Olympic Games and the Olympic movement. I can remember as an eight-year-old staying up watching the Atlanta games in ’96. I remember as a 12-year-old staying up in the night to watch triathlon make its debut in Sydney 2000.

“It inspired and motivated me to train for triathlon even though the Olympics seemed completely irrelevant at the time. I just thought it was incredible that triathlon was a sport that made it.

“And obviously since 2008, the Olympics have been a part of my life, competing in it. I think it’s absolutely fantastic that the Olympics are going on this year in Japan after everything that’s been happening in the world over the last 18 months.

“And I think the Olympic movement as a whole has got a significant role to play in the modern world. It may be more significant than ever.”

In the least surprising news you’ve read this week, while Alistair was left disappointed at failing to make the cut, he is fully supportive of his brother once more alongside Yee, who won the event in Leeds and will make his Olympic debut in Japan.

“I wouldn’t say happy but I’m completely at peace and resigned to the fact I’m not going, definitely. I’m more than happy about the career I’ve had in elite sport and in Olympic-distance triathlon racing. It was obviously a shame that I didn’t make it but I’ve been struggling with an injury for months and months. It has been tough and stressful, and to be honest, as it is now, I’m really looking forward to standing on the sidelines and watching the event.

“I think it’s absolutely great for Jonny, that he’s qualified, I’m really happy for him. For him to go to his third Olympics, it would be an absolutely incredible achievement if he gets a medal or even won, that would be amazing. I have passed on tips as and where I can but to be honest with you, he’s been to two Olympic Games so he doesn’t need a lot from me!

Brownlee Brothers (GETTY)
Brownlee Brothers (GETTY)

“In sport, especially endurance sport, lots of people have an idea that there’s painful training involved. I get asked that question all the time: ‘How do you go through that pain and discomfort every day?’

“The thing people may not realise is the consistency, day in, day out, day in, day out, for months and months, and years and years. It’s seven days a week, 12 months of the year, years on end without days off, often doing four, five, six, seven hours training in triathlon’s case.”

If your jaw has dropped a notch or two, you are certainly not alone. The rigours of elite-level sport are not for the faint-hearted, and Brownlee has recently spent time doing his own research into how – and why – some of his sporting heroes do what they do.

He has authored Relentless: Secrets of the Sporting Elite featuring interviews with some of the biggest names in British and world sport to discover what makes them tick with the likes of Chris Froome and Paula Radcliffe – from Brownlee’s relatively familiar athletics world – joined by stars from a range of sports including former England cricket captain Alastair Cook, champion jockey AP McCoy and snooker legend Ronnie O’Sullivan.

“Being able to sit down and chat to Ronnie O’Sullivan over a plate of his mum’s lasagne was just absolutely brilliant,” he laughs.

“One of the things Ronnie says really well is about disliking the ‘genius’ label and undermining the hard work and the time he puts in. I really enjoyed speaking to people from sports that, to be very frank, I’m pretty ignorant about. I was fascinated to learn from the jump jockeys, Richard Dunwoody and AP McCoy, about their racing. I know a little bit about horse racing but only what I see on TV or when I’ve been to the races for the day. Learning about the frequency of the racing, you know, they talk about race wins and losses in the 1000s and injuries in hundreds, years competing at the top in decades – just incredible.

Read more from The Big RT Interview:

“One of the things I found most fascinating was that there’s all kinds of common denominators. People are motivated by all kinds of different sources and that was incredible to learn.

“The people that are top consistent performers seem to find a type of motivation that suited them at the best time. They could work out what type of motivation they needed on that day, whether that’s a training or practice session, or competing.”

What is Alistair’s motivation? What has fuelled this two-time gold medal winning triathlon icon? “Heated seats in the car.” Well, sort of.

He said: “Pretty much my whole life I’ve got up and gone swimming every morning. I get up, go swimming for motivation to get out of bed. It’s kind of habitual but I’m not giving myself the option not to go.

“I go downstairs and I’m motivated to get downstairs by the fact I’m going to make a cup of tea. I might be motivated in the winter to get to the car for training because the heated seats are in the car. It’s the little things!

“Fast-forward half an hour, I’m swimming up and down the pool, going as hard as I can because I’m racing the person next to me, normally my brother, and the motivation there is social and competitiveness.

“In the space of half an hour from getting out of bed to getting into training, there’s a multitude of different motivations.

“And [in writing the book] I realised I had the opportunity to use the fact that I guess I’ve been a bit successful” – an understatement, if ever there was one – “to go out and talk and approach the people who have been super successful, way more successful than me.”

Brownlee will not feature in Tokyo – he will relinquish the crown he has treasured for nine years since London 2012. However, though he may be too humble to appreciate it, he can now let go, rest easy, knowing his place is secure among the sporting inspirations he himself is so fascinated by.

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