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The Brownlee Brothers’ Post-Olympic Paths Diverge

One will pursue another ITU world title, while the other will test the waters in long-course racing.

Together the Brownlee brothers have elevated themselves from multisport stars to mainstream celebrities, especially in their home country of England. Their fierce style of racing, success at sport’s biggest stage—the Olympics—and most recently their epic finish at the Grand Final in Cozumel have made them fan favorites. In a rare side-by-side interview, the Brownlees answered questions at an event organized by their wetsuit sponsor HUUB. Jonathan, 26, a two-time Olympic medalist, reveals that he plans to stick to ITU racing at least through Tokyo 2020, while older brother Alistair, 28, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, will try some new things before deciding if he will go after another gold medal. In addition to racing plans, the brothers chatted about a possible format change to the Olympics and their relationship. Watch the complete interview here and read a few interesting excerpts below.

Jonathan Brownlee on racing ITU in 2017
“It will change. I’ve raced the last six years with Alistair and [Javier] Gomez and they’ve been competitive. They’ve forced the way the races have gone. There have been fast swims and bikes, and small groups have gotten ahead on the swim and the bike. Hopefully that’s not going to change. … I’m looking forward to a new way of racing and hopefully being the fittest I can be at the peak of my career. I hope to become the world champion. Obviously [in Cozumel] I was about 200 meters away from becoming the world champion and messed it up. … The year after the Olympics is always an interesting one. Some things will change, but at the end of the day it’s still swim, bike, run.”

Alistair on his upcoming racing plans
“I’m going to take the opportunity to try some slightly different type of racing, which is fantastic, but I still want to keep my foot in the door with some ITU racing. I definitely want to race Leeds obviously [his hometown race] and maybe a couple of others, but we’ll see how the season goes. My kind of general idea is that at the end of next year, 2018, I will have had the time to try some other things, long-distance racing, half-Ironman racing and maybe full distance, and then I’ll have an idea of ‘Does this motivate me? Do I want to try to ultimately win Hawaii, which is the goal of long-distance racing, or maybe refocus and try to come back and be successful in Tokyo?’”

Alistair on the desire to go after a third gold medal
“I think I’d love to be in Tokyo. You want to be in the Olympics. The Olympics is what you do this for. When I was 10 years old, I dreamt of going to the Olympics. I never dreamed of winning it twice, never mind trying to win it three times. I feel like in lots of ways I’ve fulfilled that dream, but of course it’s there on the horizon and it’d be impossible to sit here and say no, I’m definitely not going to be in Tokyo. … I think the next couple of years will give us a chance to see if I like the longer stuff, see if it motivates me and allows me to set new goals.”

Jonathan on the possibility of Olympic triathlon racing changing to sprint distance
“That’s the rumor. … I think it will still remain the Olympic distance for Tokyo, and then I think after that it will go down to the sprint. Initially I thought, ‘No, I like the endurance format of it, I’m an endurance athlete.’ I like the idea that triathlon appears to be a very hard sport in the Olympics—I think it should stay like that. That suits me, but then I looked back at all of the races I’ve done and all of the races I won last year were sprint races actually. I think in a lot of ways it’s a good way to test someone as an all-around triathlete. People race through the swim and if there’s a small gap on the bike then people commit to that 20K bike and think, ‘I’m not saving myself for a 10-kilometer run.’ A 20-second gap over 5 kilometers is a big gap, so people will kind of work hard for that. Whereas a 20-second gap over 10 kilometers, people are just too scared of getting caught so they’re not willing to work for that lead.

“But I think it’d be sad to see it change. What’s great about triathlon is people come up to you and say, ‘You know I watched you boys and your sport is really hard.’ So that’s a good thing. It’d be a shame to lose that. On the other side, we’d gain a relay, and that could be great for the sport to have a second medal in triathlon, a second chance of exposure in the Olympics. I think the relay in this sport is great. … It’s fast and furious and it’s good to watch.”

Jonathan on the dynamic with Alistair throughout his career
“It started off as an inspiration, I suppose. I still remember that first time he put his Great Britain kit on the kitchen table and I thought, ‘Wow, I want a Great Britain kit.’ Obviously I got to watch him compete in the Beijing Olympics. … It’s been great to do the journey together. The journey of training—I’ve been lucky that in my two Olympics I got to be physically next to him on the pontoon and diving into the water together. To have someone you can trust in the race, you can work tactically together …

“It’s an interesting relationship. In London I saw how he was training and I knew he was going to be fit going into 2012, but I basically took the start line knowing that he had beat me already because I saw what he was doing in training. In Rio it was a lot different … I think it was a lot closer. We were very, very even. I was on the start line in Rio thinking, ‘I’ve got as good of a chance as Alistair of winning.’ He still beat me. Hopefully in Tokyo, whether he’s there or not, I’ll have another chance at a gold medal.”