Halfway through the final leg of the men’s triathlon today – the 10km run that followed the 1.5km swim and the 40km cycle ride - Alistair Brownlee must have thought he was cresting the peak of Pen-y-Ghent or Ingleborough rather than racing round the fringes of the Ming Tombs Reservoir north west of Beijing with Olympic gold in his sights.
The young man from Leeds who began his competitive sporting life on the Yorkshire fell running scene was pushing the pace at the front of the small lead group and looking good.
He had already led the chase to overhaul the duo who had stolen a temporary march on the field midway through the cycling phase, Axel Zeebroek of Belgium and Dirk Bockel of Luxembourgh, and appeared to be as comfortable as the three rivals at his shoulder: Javier Gomez and Ivan Rana of Spain and Bevan Docherty of New Zealand. Sadly, the appearance proved to be deceptive. After fleetingly threatening to open a gap on a downhill descent, Brownlee’s golden shot had gone. With 3km remaining, he dropped behind the pace.
The 20-year-old chemistry student faded to 12th place, crossing the line in 1hr 50 min19.62sec - 1min 26.34sec behind Jan ‘Frodo’ Frodeno, the German who timed his effort to perfection, sprinting past Canadian Simon Whitfield some 70m from the line. Still, it was a bold, spirited effort by Brownlee, befitting the motto listed in his profile: “Who dares wins.”
He might not have won but the manner in which he dared can only bode well for London 2012, when the Olympic triathlon comes to Hyde Park. “I had a choice, really,” Brownlee reflected. “I could have gone out and given it my all and risk it, or I could have maybe hung back and come eighth. But I think you’re better off risking it all and going for the medal.
“When I was at the front I was thinking, ‘Wow, this is what I’ve always dreamed of.’ I was feeling pretty comfortable, but when it came to the 7km mark I just had nothing left. I’m absolutely gutted, to be honest. I gave it everything I had and came 12th and that’s that. Hopefully, four more years in maturity will help me get those other 12 places for next time.”
Brownlee, winner of the world under 23 triathlon title in June, will only be 24 when 2012 comes around. And Will Clarke will only be 27. The Cambridge athlete produced a fine performance himself yesterday, finishing 14th in 1:50:32.07. It was a day to forget for Tim Don, though. The 30-year-old former world champion was hit by a bug at the end of last week and, after falling well behind the field, officials ordered him to withdraw as he approached the finish of the bike stage. “I think it was a safety issue,” he said. “I always wanted to finish but I can understand you can’t have runners and cyclists potentially taking each other out.”