Jonny Brownlee and Alex Yee have faith in organisers amid Paris water concern

By Sports Desk August 10, 2023

Olympic triathlon champions Jonny Brownlee and Alex Yee are putting their faith in organisers of this month’s Games Test Event in Paris to ensure the Seine is safe for swimming.

The world’s best triathletes are set to take to the water in the French capital on August 17 and 18 for a preview of next year’s Olympics.

Parisian authorities have ploughed huge sums of money into cleaning up the Seine in time for the Games but last weekend’s Open Water Swimming World Cup was cancelled because of poor water quality following heavy rainfall.

The spotlight has intensified, meanwhile, after more than 50 people reported falling ill following last month’s World Triathlon Championship Series event in Sunderland.

World Triathlon said in a statement after the cancellation of the swimming world cup that it would monitor water quality carefully ahead of its event but expected conditions to be safe.

Yee, who won individual silver and relay gold for Britain in Tokyo in 2021, told the PA news agency: “We have 100 per cent faith in the organisers of the event.

“If they put the health and safety of the athletes first, then we give them our 100 per cent trust. If they say it’s safe to swim, then we’ll swim. If they don’t say it’s safe, then we’ll deal with the consequences.

“I think also the fact that they’re even making the attempt to clean up the Seine and leave a legacy behind is an amazing thing and shows they have the right intentions. That’s all we can really ask for.”


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If the water is not deemed to be safe, the race will be shifted to a duathlon format, with the swim replaced by a second running leg.

Brownlee, one of the most experienced competitors in the sport, echoed Yee, saying: “I’ve swum in the Seine before. All we can do as athletes is prepare for a triathlon and then put our faith in the organisers to ensure that it is a safe environment.”

Sunderland was hosting a world series event for the first time, taking over the British round from Leeds, and the headlines generated were certainly not what local authorities or British Triathlon would have wanted.

The governing body said tests taken in the swim area ahead of the race were within acceptable guidelines but a nearby test showing high levels of E. coli bacteria was highlighted by Australian Jake Birtwhistle, who was among those that fell ill.

He argued the swim should have been cancelled, while another triathlete to suffer was Britain’s Olivia Mathias.

She shrugged it off, saying: “I’m fine now. It was just 24 hours. These things happen with racing. We put our bodies through quite a lot and we’re bound to get ill at some point. I’ll just move on from it.”

Both Brownlee and Yee said they had never experienced illness after swimming in British waters but levels of pollution in rivers and along the shoreline have prompted nationwide criticism and alarm.

Brownlee, who missed the Sunderland race to focus on Paris, said: “It’s a shame that’s what came out of it because the course and the event looked great.


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“On the whole we put on great events in the UK. One of the challenges of organising outside events is that sometimes it’s out of your control. There are risks and challenges of swimming in open water.

“We want to keep our planet as clean as we possibly can and having clean water is one of the fundamental things. I might be wrong but I genuinely believe the vast majority of the places we can swim are clean and safe.”

Brownlee is eyeing a fourth Olympic appearance having won individual bronze and silver in London and Rio before claiming his first gold medal as part of the mixed relay team in Tokyo.

The 33-year-old had intended for that to be his Olympic swansong but changed his mind and set his sights on Paris.

Whether he actually races in the French capital depends on how he performs during the rest of 2023 and into 2024, and he said: “I only want to go to Paris if I can be competitive in the individual and the mixed team relay.

“I’ve been to three Olympic Games so I don’t want to go and just get the kit, make up the numbers. We’ll see hopefully over the next couple of months but maybe into next year whether that’s genuinely going to be the case.”

Yee has built on his success in Tokyo with four world series victories and double Commonwealth gold over the past two years and would tick the selection box for next summer by finishing on the podium in Paris next week.

“It’s really exciting that there’s that opportunity there but, for me, the biggest goal of going to this race is to learn as much as I can about next year and about the course,” said the 25-year-old.

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  • Jess Learmonth pushes boundaries after pregnancy in bid to reach Paris 2024 Jess Learmonth pushes boundaries after pregnancy in bid to reach Paris 2024

    Olympic champion Jess Learmonth says she pushed the boundaries during her unexpected pregnancy in a bid to keep her Paris 2024 dream alive.

    Learmonth, who won gold in the triathlon mixed relay at Tokyo 2020, became a mum for the first time when giving birth to Frederick last September.

    The 35-year-old from Leeds fell pregnant during her recovery from a serious hip injury and, having not competed since May 2022, is on a mission to get back to her best in time for this summer’s Olympics.


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    She told the PA news agency: “I probably shouldn’t have run on the day I gave birth. I actually pulled my calf on a run in the morning and then gave birth that evening.

    “Looking back, I was heavily over my usual running weight and obviously my gait was completely different because I had a big belly.

    “Maybe if I hadn’t pulled my calf I’d have said it was fine. But yeah, looking back, with two weeks to go, I probably could have just chilled out a little bit.”

    Learmonth, determined to hit the ground running once Frederick was born, found medical research into training while pregnant to be limited.

    Until the turn of the century it was rare to see women return to the top of their sport after giving birth.

    Learmonth is grateful to the doctors and sports scientists at the National Sports Centre at Bisham Abbey and British Triathlon for their support.

    “There were certain things I obviously did follow,” she said. “The massive one is not running for 12 weeks post-birth. If you come back too early, you can have problems later down the line.

    “I followed all the advice, but it was the stuff they weren’t sure on that I kind of explored myself.

    “I was still lifting heavy weights in the gym. I took the information and filtered it for me. They helped me find my own boundaries and explore what I could and couldn’t manage.”

    Learmonth stressed that throughout her pregnancy she never allowed her heart rate to go beyond 150 beats per minute, while her approach, so far, appears to be paying off.

    Running aside, she is closing in on the performance levels that saw her win Olympic gold and finish second overall in the 2019 World Series after multiple podium finishes.


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    “I’m not far away,” said the 2017 European champion. “I’m just not as good as I was before, yet. There have been big changes in my life, having Fred and not training as much.

    “It’s interesting to see how my body will react to doing less training and more recovery. It could go either way.”

    Learmonth has been surprised by her progress as she targets the first Indoor World Cup event of the season in Lievin, France, for her return to competitive action at the end of March.

    “I think Frederick’s helped me a lot because we’ve done a lot of tests in the lab and my numbers are probably just as good, if not better, than pre-pregnancy, certainly on the bike, which has kind of baffled me really,” she said.

    “I don’t know if having him and the different hormones you get from having a child and post-birth has kind of helped me out, but it’s been really, really motivating.

    “But after pregnancy I’ve found it a lot harder than I thought I would, mainly because of the logistics of him feeding and napping.

    “I’m breastfeeding as well, so it’s difficult to get the timings right. I have to make sure, logistically, I’m on it.”

    Learmonth, made an MBE in 2022, will not be the first triathlete to return to top-level action after giving birth as fellow Brit and former world champion Vicky Holland and Americans Katie Zaferes and Gwen Jorgensen have paved the way.

    “They’ve definitely inspired me,” Learmonth added. “I just wish there was more definitive research out there that shows athletes can have children and come back and be just as good.

    “There’s still a lot of stigma around training through pregnancy and certainly what I was doing and I’d love to help get more exposure and help inspire all new mums who want to get back into sport.”

  • Beth Potter on brink of Olympic dream after embracing ‘bonkers’ triathlon switch Beth Potter on brink of Olympic dream after embracing ‘bonkers’ triathlon switch

    Beth Potter cried every day after making the switch from athletics to triathlon but she now stands on the brink of qualifying for the Paris Olympics.

    The 31-year-old Scot won the Games test event in the French capital last month and a top-three finish at the World Triathlon Championship Finals in Spain on Sunday would see her meet the selection criteria for the British team.

    Whether she qualifies this weekend or not, there seems little doubt Potter will be part of the British line-up next summer, joining a notable list of athletes who have competed at the Olympics in two different sports.

    It was after using her summer holidays from her day job as a physics teacher to race in the 10,000 metres in Rio in 2016 that Potter decided to throw her eggs in the triathlon basket.

    “I think I probably had doubts until last year,” she told the PA news agency.

    “It’s been really hard. I think those around me, the guys I train with, my boyfriend and my mum and dad, will know how hard it’s been. Even that first year I was in Leeds I probably spent every day pretty upset and wondering whether I’d made the right choice. I think I probably cried every day.”

    Potter used family motivation to keep her going, saying: “I always did know it was never going to happen overnight, these things never do, it always takes four or five years.

    “It was in line with my sister finishing her medical degree in Sheffield. I gave myself until then, if I’m not making a living out of it by then or things are just not going how I thought they would then I’ll probably just quit and go back to the day job. Luckily I beat her to that. She’s just finished her training.”

    Potter grew up doing swimming alongside her athletics but she was a cycling novice when she made the transition to triathlon aged 25.

    “It’s not as easy to pick up skills like that as an adult because you have the fear, you know what’s going to happen if you come off,” she said. “It’s not like a kid where you just bounce off the ground. You know you’re going to hurt yourself.

    “There was just a lot of doubt. I found that quite hard, constantly trying to believe in myself and constantly be like, it is going to work, I’m just not quite there yet. Getting to grips with a completely different sport.

    “It was a very steep learning curve. Getting thrown into the world series and drowning, basically, way out of my depth. There was one way that I could race. If I had an easy swim and an easy bike then that would be fine.

    “The way racing has been the last couple of years it’s not been ideal for me but now I’ve got my bike and my swim up to those levels, I’m trying to turn myself into an all-round athlete that can win from any position.

    “It’s been quite good this year how I’ve managed to win and get on the podium in different events and in different race scenarios.”

    Potter has put together a brilliant 2023 campaign, winning world series races in Abu Dhabi and Montreal and then getting the better of big French rival Cassandre Beaugrand in a head-to-head finish at the test event.

    A repeat in Pontevedra would see the winner crowned world champion, although Potter’s main target remains booking her spot in Paris.

    “My goal at the start of the season was to qualify for the Olympics,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting to be in the running for the world title. I knew I could be up there but I didn’t expect it to come down to the wire.

    “It’s a bit of a chicken and egg where I think if I just focus on doing the little things right, I’ll probably get the Olympic qualification and finish wherever on the podium.”

    Olympic silver medallist Alex Yee is in the running for the men’s title having also won the test event, and the British team look well positioned to continue their brilliant run of success in the sport next summer.

    Potter is currently the leading woman in the absence of the injured Georgia Taylor-Brown, individual silver medallist in Tokyo, and her gold medal-winning mixed relay team-mate Jess Learmonth, who recently gave birth to her first child.

    Potter praised the coaches in Leeds who have kept the faith through the last six years that her move to triathlon would pay off.

    “They’ve stuck by me through thick and thin so I owe it to them because they believed when I was nothing,” she said. “They can see a reward now hopefully. It was a bit bonkers to do it but I definitely think it’s been the right decision.”

  • On this day in 2014: Alistair Brownlee beats brother Jonny to Commonwealth gold On this day in 2014: Alistair Brownlee beats brother Jonny to Commonwealth gold

    Alistair Brownlee beat brother Jonny to the gold medal in the men’s triathlon at the Commonwealth Games, on this day in 2014.

    The Olympic gold medallist had time to grab England and Yorkshire flags and give his brother a clap before walking across the finish line at at Strathclyde Country Park.

    England had never won a medal in the sport at the Commonwealths before but took home four in one day after Jodie Stimpson produced a superb performance to take gold in the women’s race, with Vicky Holland winning a surprise bronze.

    The men’s race was not nearly as competitive because of the incredible dominance of Yorkshire’s Brownlee brothers.

    They led virtually from start to finish but it was older brother Alistair who again had the edge to add the Commonwealth title to his Olympic and world crowns.

    “I’m fortunate I’ve won the world title, I’ve won the Olympic title and to complete the set with the Commonwealth title as well, that’s the most important thing for me,” he said.

    “They’re the big three things in Olympic-distance triathlon so it’s perfect, it’s far more than I ever could have dreamed of.”

    Jonny, who won Olympic bronze in 2012, finished 11 seconds adrift while South Africa’s Richard Murray won bronze.

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