Interview: Olympic Gold Medallist – Alistair Brownlee MBE

Nick Butler 7 March 2013

After spending a term at Girton College studying medicine, Alistair Brownlee made the ultimately wise decision to commit full time to the triathlon. After debuting in Beijing, he won World Championship titles in 2009 and 2011 before recovering from an injury to win gold in London – Britain’s first ever Olympic triathlon medal – and with his brother Jonny also on the podium he forms one of sports most famous sibling rivalries. TCS Sport caught up with the 24 year old ahead of his 2013 opener in Abu Dhabi last weekend…

How is training going at the moment?

I’m really enjoying it all at the minute. I had to have a break over Christmas with a few niggles, so it’s great to be out riding and running at the minute getting fitter all of the time. I’m racing the Abu Dhabi Triathlon in early March (Alistair won emphatically in a course record time)and after that I will be concentrating on the ITU world series and more specifically the Grand Final in London in September. That will be a great one to go and watch as it is back on the Olympic course so it’ll be great to go head to head with Gomez and Jonny there again.

How brutal is your weekly routine?

I do about 35 hours of training per week: five swim sessions at 7am followed by at least one run – sometimes two – and I also cycle every day. Getting up early for swimming is hardest as you can be the biggest optimist in the world, but staring at the bottom of the pool for 90 minutes at 7am isn’t exactly fun!

Has training affected your social life?

I think from the outside some things may have seemed like sacrifices. In my late teens for instance, I would generally be very tired at 9pm as I had been up so early for swimming, which meant socialising in the evening was fairly limited. However, I never saw these as sacrifices at the time. I really enjoyed meeting friends to go out riding with, and picked the times I would socialise.

What is your best tip for a beginner?

The best way to start is to get a mate to start with you or join a club. Some of the training, like the swimming, can be difficult to do on your own, and it is much safer to ride in a group. It also makes it a lot more fun. Jonny and I have a great lifestyle, spending most of our time running and riding with each other and our friends.

Did you always aim to be a triathlete?

Not always, when I was a lot younger I focused on swimming and running as individual sports. Even when I had raced quite a few triathlons I still thought I may just focus on one of the disciplines. It was only when I won the World Junior Championships in 2006 that I made the conscious decision to really focus on triathlon.

How was your brief time at Cambridge? Was it having to cycle from Girton which made you leave?

Ha, I very much enjoyed my time at Cambridge. It was that whole thing of moving away from home and having your own freedom, and it was also a fantastic opportunity for me. Cambridge is one of the most prestigious places in the world to study medicine. However I couldn’t excel at that level academically if I wanted to pursue a career in triathlon. I had a very expensive race bike which I was told I couldn’t keep in my bedroom, and lectures took up pretty much all day. Trying to fit 30+ hours of training around it was pretty impossible. I decided that triathlon was my true passion, so I moved back to study at Leeds on a less demanding course, and in a city where the sport was well supported at the time by British Triathlon.

How serious were your injury concerns earlier in 2012?

It was incredibly tough. The really tough time was actually during the period when I was injured. When I could get back into training, I was feeling myself improve every day, which you rarely get as a professional athlete, so my confidence grew daily. After winning in Kitzbuhel, I was confident I was heading in the right direction and knew I just had to keep improving up to the Games.

Talk us through the actual Olympics?

It was an odd race really, as soon as I hit the water from the pontoon I felt confident. I felt in control on the bike, and then just went for it on the run. I was surprised Gomez hung on for as long as he did, as I think that first kilometre was the fastest I have ever run in a triathlon. Credit to Javier though as he really hung on.

How did you celebrate gold?

It’s funny really, the better you do in the Games the less of an experience you have! I was dragged from pillar to post doing interviews, photo shoots and media requests. Some of which was excellent, like going to the top of the BT tower, and driving round in a Gold BMW, but in some I was looking forward to finishing so I could go and see some other sports in the park and celebrate with friends.

How good is your actual relationship with your brother?

No doubt having Jonny biting at my heels my whole life has helped me achieve what I have. There is no bigger motivation you could have, than living with the second best triathlete in the world. For the most part we do get on really well. Like any brothers we fall out about washing up, buying food and monopoly every now and again, but on the whole we do have a great friendship.

Do you enjoy the fame Olympic gold has brought?

There’re many parts of it that you can’t help but enjoy – and the majority of it for me and Jon is just people saying ‘well done’ as we go past on our bikes, which is lovely. Every now and again you wish you could just call into the supermarket without having to stop and sign something. But it’s not really much of a chore!

How pleased were you with your MBE in the New Years Honours?

It’s one of those strange things, that as a child you don’t grow up thinking “I would love an MBE”, you dream of winning races and Olympics, and when these privileges come as a product of realising those dreams it’s a fantastic bonus.

What do you like to do in your spare time when you are not training?

During race season, time is fairly limited and my main hobbies include sleeping and eating. I like to read to relax as well. In the winter I try to get out do more, go to the pub, I have a really fast remote control car which is great fun too. I generally have a few weeks break at the end of the summer as well where I like to travel. Last year, I went around Brazil and went trekking in Chile.

How was appearing on the BBC Superstars Program in November?

That was actually one of the best things I did after the Olympics. It’s not often you get to meet other athletes, and spend a large amount of time with them. It was great fun, but I don’t think I’ll be picking up a javelin anytime soon. Neither will I be living down my dire 100m performance.

What other challenges do you have for the future?

I’m going to be focused on Glasgow and Rio for the next few years, but I’ll certainly be mixing it up a little and Ironman Triathlon is definitely on the cards at some point! Outside sport, I don’t think I’ll return to medicine, but I certainly have other ambitions. I think they will all base around physical activity. I’d love to go on some real adventures.

Nick Butler