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Can Alistair Brownlee win a T100 in 2024? Analysing the big picture for a triathlon legend

Does Alistair Brownlee still have what it takes to win on the PTO T100 Tour in 2024? John Levison reflects on his prospects

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The first race in the PTO’s new T100 Series for 2024 is now in the books – Saturday’s racing in Miami saw the top steps of the podiums taken by Denmark’s #2 ranked Magnus Ditlev for the men, while Great Britain’s India Lee secured the biggest win of her career to date.

One of the athletes who always generates interest – and opinion – is another British athlete, the two-time Olympic gold medallist, Alistair Brownlee. Unquestionably one of the all-time greats in the sport, what does the Yorkshire star, who turns 36 next month, have left?

How should we assess his race this past weekend, and does he still have what it takes to win in the T100 series this year? Let’s dive in.

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A familiar story?

Alistair was certainly something of an outsider from the perspective of the bookmakers pre-race, and despite leading well into the final third of the 18km run, he ultimately faded to fifth as, “things just got way too hot, it was absolutely brutal.”

Britain's Alistair Brownlee finished fifth at the Miami T100.
Alistair Brownlee en route to fifth place in that T100 series opener in Miami last Saturday [Photo Credit – PTO]

It’s hardly a secret that injury and illness has been an unwanted friend for Alistair in recent years, with far too many ‘Brownlee is out’ stories written for his, or indeed our, liking. That has seen him unable to start at major events such at the IRONMAN World Championship in St George, the SUB7 Project, Kona 2022, and 2023 IRONMAN races in South Africa and Hamburg. I suspect that’s not a complete list – but the trending narrative has been a frustratingly unwelcome one.

Still, coming back from injury is not new for Brownlee, who had major ankle surgery way back in August 2015 before he returned to lead a brotherly one-two in dominating style and claim a second Olympic gold medal at Rio 2016.

Almost eight years on from that stunning performance, has time taken it’s toll on a body which has been competing at Elite levels for two decades now? Alistair’s legendary status is already more than secured in the history of the sport – but from a ‘what have you done for me lately’ perspective, what’s the big picture?

Reflecting on his finishes over the past 12 months, it’s not highlight-reel material:

  • Ibiza PTO European Open 2023 – dominant swim / bike combo, leading early in the run before slipping back to sixth
  • Challenge Barcelona 2023 – second to Youri Keulen on his return to racing, the Dutch athlete pulling clear in the final 2km of the run.
  • Challenge Peguera-Mallorca 2023 – third (Keulen winning again), but fading late in the run
  • Challenge Vieux Boucau 2023 – sixth with a “jog it home” after not feeling right in France.

Now, that’s a C.V. of results that many – most – professional athletes can only dream of, but when you’ve achieved what Alistair has in his career, it’s nowhere near his proven heights. For an athlete who has run 28:32 for 10,000m on the track, repeated vulnerability in that final discipline must be a frustrating concern, for both him and his many supporters.

So, should we write him off as a contender? Perhaps not so fast. Let’s take a different perspective.

Miami heat

While the world seems to be moving more towards a black and white / yes or no / right or wrong world, I think it is well worth zooming out and at least giving the opportunity for a more rounded view. Maybe it’s my analytical nature, but I think trying to provide a take on answering the question set in the headline to this feature, requires a more balance perspective. I see many positives from Saturday’s race:

As I highlighted above, the bookmakers – a reflection of public perception (and wallets!) – certainly didn’t have him as a favourite for Miami’s race. Finishing fifth, if anything, was exceeding expectations.

Temperatures in Miami for the men’s race were reported to be circa 35-degree centigrade at times, conditions which historically at least, have been far from ideal for the Yorkshireman. June in San Francisco and July in London, for example, are likely to be very different.

As he has done for almost every race of his career, Brownlee continues to look pretty much bullet-proof in terms of his swim/bike combination. In any event, on any course, against any competition, who would back against him not being – at the very least – in the lead group heading into T2? Of course, the sport is very much three disciplines and it is position at the finish line that counts, but that’s not a status that too many others are in right now. Especially one that has proven elite running pedigree in his past.

Alistair Brownlee bike leg Challenge Vieux Boucau 2023 photo credit Challenge Family
[Photo credit: Challenge Family]

The competition was stellar in Miami too. While it was the first major event of the 2024 season with the field likely in various stages of preparedness, finishing ahead of the current IRONMAN World Champion (Sam Laidlow), the current IRONMAN 70.3 World Champion (Rico Bogen) and the pre-race favourite (Jason West) means that your day was about more than blowing up in the final stages. With little more than 5km to go, Alistair Brownlee was still leading the race remember…

Hope or dreams?

So where does that leave us? While London 2012 and Rio 2016 are etched in the memories, expecting that run course killer to re-emerge is almost certainly unrealistic in my eyes; but ultimately, in this format, it’s not required either. Equally, it’s not the case that race-winning run performances haven’t been seen for many years.

While his 2023 record – highlighted above – showed weakness, Alistair made IRONMAN Kalmar 2022 (finishing with a 2:40 marathon), looked pretty routine. That was a race which fell just two weeks after IRONMAN 70.3 Swansea, an event he dominated by such a margin that he could have all but jogged around and still won, yet still cruised to the fastest run split and an almost eight-minute winning margin. He’s a class act.

Bottom line? Recency bias may lead to an ‘of course he’ll blow’ assumption, but you don’t have to go back too far to see some real quality.

Alistair Brownlee Kalmar 2022 win photo credit Getty Images for IRONMAN
[Photo credit: Getty Images for IRONMAN]

Prediction

So where does that leave us? What’s your take?

In coming to my conclusion, I’m drawn back to an article I wrote last year. In that piece, focussed on the Alistair Brownlee vs. Jan Frodeno rivalry ahead of the PTO event in Ibiza, I said:

I still believe that we will see at least one ‘wow’ performance from both athletes this year. They are simply too good, and too driven to be on tour and settling for consistent top-10’s.

John Levison prediction April 2023

Now that proved to be bang on the money for Jan with his incredible race in Milwaukee, but less so for Alistair. Is this the year to put that right? I’ve got a feeling that it is.

Whether that’s hope, nostalgia or looking through rose-tinted British specs I’m not sure, but all indications suggest that he will put himself in winning contention at T2, multiple times. I believe at least one of those opportunities will be grabbed with both hands, and Alistair Brownlee will win a T100 event in 2024,

With Alcatraz a “bucket list race for me” and an opportunity to race in front of a home crowd in London coming in July, I don’t expect the bookies to be offering odds of 25/1 then. Because if they do, I’ll be taking them.

With T100 London falling just days before the Paris Olympic Games, that feels like it could be a very good day for an Olympic legend to make his own triathlon headlines.

Alistair Brownlee at T100 Triathlon World Tour launch 2024
Alistair Brownlee at T100 Triathlon World Tour launch
John Levison
Written by
John Levison
TRI247's Chief Correspondent, John has been involved in triathlon for well over 30 years, 15 of those writing on these pages, whilst he can also be found commentating for events across the UK.

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