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Alistair Brownlee has two Olympic golds to his name and is the most decorated triathlete in history but he still gets starstruck meeting his sporting heroes, writes Paul Eddison.
The 33-year-old will not be competing in his fourth Olympics this summer, an ankle injury that required surgery last month putting paid to his qualification hopes.
Yet it has still been a big year for the elder Brownlee, whose younger brother Jonny will be looking to follow in Alistair’s footsteps and upgrade the silver he won five years ago in Rio to gold.
Alistair, meanwhile, published his first book ‘Relentless’ this month, an attempt to define sporting greatness which saw him interview a host of household name from across the sporting landscape. And he admits, at times that felt rather surreal.
He said: “I’m really excited about the book, it came out last Thursday. It’s been really exciting. The whole process really, being able to talk to sportspeople who are my absolute idols.
“It’s fascinating for someone like me who has been interested in sport my whole life to be able to talk to some of the people I got to talk to. That was brilliant. The process of going through and writing it, so far the reactions I’ve heard have gone well. People seem to like it and it will be interesting to see over the next few weeks how it sells and how much other people like it.
“I was starstruck on quite a few occasions. It was an incredible privilege to talk to everyone I talked to, from sitting down with Ronnie O’Sullivan and having tea, his mum cooked us some lasagne. Then I was sitting in Sir Ian Botham’s garden and having a drink while we chatted about things. I spoke to people on phone calls and zooms and various other things, I felt very fortunate.”
Brownlee might compete in the most demanding sport of all, particularly when you consider that with his Olympic career behind him, his new focus is the longer Ironman triathlon, as gruelling an endeavour as exists.
And while the decision to write a book shows that there is clearly a cerebral side to him, Brownlee remains keen to push the human body to the limits.
His next challenge is to break the seven-hour barrier for the Ironman, an event that is comprised of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and then a marathon.
The official world record is currently 7h35, with Brownlee having registered a time of 7h45 but like Eliud Kipchoge’s sub-two hour marathon, this new challenge – set for spring next year – will not fall under the official classifications.
Instead, Brownlee will use an alternative wetsuit and will be allowed to draft on the bike, all in an effort to dip under seven hours.
Patience will be required before then, with Brownlee still not running following his operation, although he has been back in the water and on the bike.
He added: “When I get going with training again, as soon as I can, I’ll be training to the best of my ability in Ironman and the sub-7 project next year will be my focus.
“Where we’ll do sub-7 is open at the moment. We’re choosing the location to have the fastest course, so flat, low wind etc. We need the right weather conditions as well, warm, humid air for low air resistance and not being too hot for the run.”
As well as the sub-7 challenge, Brownlee has Jan Frodeno’s world record in his sights, as well as the World Championship title, with the competition held in Tokyo each October.
Despite missing out on qualification for the Games, he will travel to Tokyo for the Olympics, cheering on Jonny as well campaigning for election to the IOC’s Athletes Commission.
And having trained with Jonny up until last week when the younger Brownlee flew out to Japan, Alistair believes his brother is in perfect position to follow in his footsteps.
He added: “I was training with Jonny completely up until I had my operation. I’ve trained with him a little in the last few weeks, I went for a bike ride with him on Saturday and then he flew out to the preparation camp on Sunday. So I’ve seen quite a bit of him and I think he’s in a great place. Things have gone well for him and he couldn’t really have prepared any better.
“It would be fantastic (to keep the gold in the family).”
Alistair Brownlee is working with Purplebricks to encourage the nation to get behind Team GB on their journey to Tokyo, with the same amazing home support as London 2012. Visit @PurplebricksUK or https://www.purplebricks.co.uk/team-gb