Olympic gold medallist Jess Learmonth was a latecomer to triathlon at 23 years of age, but despite this the Yorkshire-born star has quickly become one of the sport’s very best.
Based in Leeds, Learmonth works with triathlon coach Ray Butters, also from Yorkshire, who she met through her dad.
A former Leeds United academy player, Learmonth was a keen footballer growing up and also played golf at Wetherby Golf Club. One of her biggest strengths in triathlon – swimming – was fashioned through her past experience in the sport. She represented the City of Leeds Swimming Club at National Championships, but turned her back on the sport when she was 16, citing the demanding training schedule.
Learmonth is also impressive on the bike and has extended a race-winning a lead on two wheels on many occasions. Her strategy of staying in small breakaway groups on the bike has helped her to win medals at World, European and Commonwealth events.
In 2011, Jess competed in her first triathlon whilst working at a supermarket in her home town of Tadcaster in North Yorkshire. After injuring her knee ligaments during a fitness bootcamp, Jess was advised to take up cycling to aid her rehabilitation. Following this, alongside three of her supermarket colleagues, she organised a low-key fundraising triathlon challenge.
The Olympian has revealed that despite it being a charity fundraiser, she took the triathlon incredibly seriously compared to her peers. After that Jess was hooked, and the rest is (ongoing) history!
Career record and results
Learmonth’s breakthrough year came in 2015. She quit her job as a personal trainer to take up triathlon full-time and was added to UK Sport’s World Class Performance Squad. A year later and Jess had started to cement her place amongst the elite – winning her first ETU European Cup in Quarteira, Portugal, as well as posting a first top-10 finish in an ITU World Triathlon Series event – in front of her home fans in Leeds.
Learmonth then followed this up with an impressive 2017 as she won the European Championships in Kitzbühel and European Cup in Gran Canaria. One of her best performances of the year came at the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final in Rotterdam, where she finished third.
Jess was then selected by Team England for the 2018 Commonwealth Games and left Australia’s Gold Coast with silver medals in both the women’s Individual and Mixed Relay races. She also finished the 2018 ITU World Triathlon Series in fifth position.
Into 2019 and the Yorkshire star saw her performances improve further as she climbed to second behind champion Katie Zaferes in the 2019 ITU World Triathlon Series rankings. She claimed five podiums during the season – most notably a second in the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final in Lausanne. That was a thrilling race in which she battled Zaferes until the very closing stages of the run.
In August of 2019, Learmonth and fellow Brit Georgia Taylor-Brown hit wider headlines when they were disqualified from the World Triathlon Olympic qualification event in Tokyo after crossing the finishing line hand-in-hand. Learmonth had won the race, but organisers took away her victory after she and Taylor-Brown had been deemed to break competition rule 2.11.f regarding a ‘contrived tie situation’. Bermuda’s Flora Duffy was subsequently named the eventual winner.
Learmonth at the Tokyo Olympics
At the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, delayed to the summer of 2021, Learmonth finished ninth in the women’s Individual triathlon event behind the brilliant Bermudian Flora Duffy.
Learmonth would however leave her maiden Olympics with a first medal as she secured gold in the Mixed Relay race alongside Team GB team-mates Jonny Brownlee, Georgia Taylor-Brown and Alex Yee. Learmonth raced in leg one and left Team GB in a healthy position two seconds behind then leaders United States, before handing over to Brownlee as Team GB went on to claim gold.
Super League Triathlon
A fantastic 2021 Super League Triathlon season post-Olympics saw Learmonth claim second place overall in the series, just one point behind Taylor-Brown. Representing Team Eagles, managed by three-time Olympian Tim Don, Jess notched brilliant wins in London (Triple Mix), Munich (Equalizer) and Jersey (Enduro) before finishing fourth in Malibu. That result in California saw Jess pipped to the overall SLT title by her great friend and GB team-mate Taylor-Brown.
The pain of losing out on that overall title was surely lessened by the $136,000 prize money Jess took home for her terrific performances.
Jess Learmonth and family
Jess’ dad Andrew Learmonth is also a triathlon fan, having competed in events during the 1980s. Learmonth’s brother-in-law, Chris Winter, competed in the 3000m steeplechase at the 2014 Commonwealth Games for Canada, finishing sixth.