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Alistair Brownlee sadness at WTCS Leeds KO and a note of caution for future return

Alistair Brownlee won the first World Triathlon event in Leeds in 2016 - here's his reaction to the news the event won't take place in 2024?

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After dramatic racing, French domination, big crowds and encouraging signs for the next wave of home-grown talent in Sunderland at the weekend, the harsh reality is that there won’t be a WTCS event in Britain until 2025 at the earliest.

Last week’s news that British Triathlon had decided not to bid for a return to Leeds in 2024 snaps a run of more than a decade and Alistair Brownlee, the man who has arguably done more than anyone to inspire Brits into triathlon, feels it’s a sad day.

He may be a double Olympic champion – including that never-to-be-forgotten day in London in 2012 – but the first staging of WTCS Leeds is right up there in his career highlights so far.

We caught up with him to get his reaction to the news and hear more about his involvement with the event in his home city, which has contributed hugely to the triathlon legacy in Leeds.

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‘Hard to regain the momentum’

“It’s just a shame really,” said Alistair. “I think major events are a key part of growing the sport. Both for inspiring young athletes and increasing the recognition of Tri.

It’s been such a good long run of having top-level racing in the UK and it just seems a shame that next year we won’t have that showpiece race anymore.

“I think it’s got a big part to play in terms of showcasing the sport to the wider public and having it there as a goal for young people to aspire to.”

British Tri CEO Andy Salmon explained the rationale behind the decision when we spoke to him last week and Brownlee said: “I obviously don’t know the detail of the economics around it, but it’s tough for everyone at the moment.

“I guess you could draw a parallel to some of the other sports in the UK that obviously are having difficult times as well. So it’s not like it’s just triathlon on its own.”

But while Salmon expressed the hope that Britain would return to the WTCS calendar “sooner rather than later”, Brownlee pointed out: “I think even with all the best intentions it’s very easy to say it’ll come back, but it can be quite hard to regain that momentum.”

‘A very special day’

There have been many memorable moments in the history of WTCS Leeds, perhaps none more than local heroes Alistair and Jonny Brownlee finishing first and second in that debut edition in 2016 [which they also did 12 months later] after doing so much to help the event become a reality and inspire the huge crowds that turned out that day and would come back year after year.

Alistair remembers: “It was definitely one of the most special races and days of my career.

“For a triathlon like that to come to Leeds, but also Leeds hosting a triathlon. Being on both sides of that coin and for it to actually happen was very special. And there were amazing crowds there. The whole city got behind it with posters of the athletes all over and the crowds coming out to support people. So, yeah, that was a very special day.”

alistair brownlee wins world triathlon leeds 2016
Alistair Brownlee wins in Leeds in 2016 [Photo credit: ITU / Janos Schmidt]

When I ask Alistair how involved he was in bringing the event to Leeds in what was a golden sporting period for the city, which also hosted the Tour de France start in 2014, he played down his role, saying: “In practical terms, not a lot.

“To be fair to Leeds City Council, they spoke in 2012 about the state of sport in Leeds, and I delivered a speech to the town councillors in the assembly about how there’s so much great sport going on in Leeds.

“I said there’s loads of amateur clubs, loads of people doing amazing things, loads of history and a tradition of people running and cycling, especially, and there’s this kind of growing tradition of triathlon and so much going on, and with a bit of help from the council, something really special could happen.

“And I didn’t think of it that much for a couple of years but then it got mentioned at some event I was at in 2014 and in 2015 they announced and it became a reality.

“By then Jonny and I had quite a few meetings with the council and event organisers about the course planning and that kind of thing, and I remember discussing various course options and we talked about, for example, whether to keep it within Roundhay Park – like they did in later years – or going to the city centre.

“And at the time, we thought it’d be amazing if it went into the city centre because it would really help Leeds stand out as an event, because it would mean that the people of Leeds could crowd into the city centre to watch and it’d be racing around a real major UK city centre. And we thought that would be a fantastic thing, to bring triathlon to that location, which it turned out to be in those first few years, I think it was really special.”

Inspiring the next generation

But now that opportunity to act as a shop window has gone, Brownlee feels it’s as important as ever that everyone within the sport does what they can to encourage people – and youngsters in particular – to get involved.

He and Jonny have done that to incredible effect with the Brownlee Foundation, this summer welcoming their 50,000th child to a fun triathlon event.

And he told us: “I think it should be an important part of all of our thinking. All of us that I think care about the sport of triathlon and believe that activity is crucial in all our lives, especially young people’s lives, for loads of reasons.

“We always think of it in terms of health, but also the kind of psychological and development aspects of it. Not only is it good for mental health, but the social aspects and all those things that we all learned doing sport growing up. I think it should always be very high on everyone’s agenda, whether we just care about sport, whether we care about the future of society, and whether it’s, I guess, officially our job as it is for a Federation to promote that.

“I’m very proud of the work that the Brownlee Foundation has done. It’s come from a small idea for exactly the reasons I just outlined and it really seems to be going from strength to strength. We’ve got great support from people, fantastic volunteers and people working for us, which is brilliant. Let’s hope we can do another 50,000 and expand even more, even sooner.”

Alistair & Jonny Brownlee Foundation hits legacy milestone
Jonathan Turner
Written by
Jonathan Turner
Jonathan Turner is News Director for both TRI247 and RUN247, and is accustomed to big-name interviews, breaking news stories and providing unrivalled coverage for endurance sports.  
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