Abu Dhabi was the first race of the season. For some, a chance to take stock of the competition and themselves as the Olympic qualifying period heats up. But for the stars of the circuit, they were kicking off their World Title campaign. 2014 proved that the early season victories of Javier Gomez allowed him to snatch the title as he would be unable to win a race once Alistair returned (London).
After two seasons where the Brownlees stole the World Title from Javier, the different statements from the brothers confirmed they were willing to pursue it. This was aided by uninterrupted winters of training, without injury.
But just a few days before the debut of the ITU World Series, the news crashed down. Alistair would not compete in Abu Dhabi. No official statement from him, just silence. 2 different rumors circulated. The British Media said that he had twisted his ankle in training. The Triathlon Federation said he was attacked by a dog during training. People in his entourage have remained vague and have blamed the nature of the season; with long travel and a difficult duration. There was speculation that Alistair was not interested in racing the long seasons. His resistance was understandable.
Abu Dhabi was not a favorable race for Alistair. The Olympic distance has seen more consistent success. The bike is where he can perform well and in contrast to Hamburg (where he has won), Abu Dhabi was simply not technical enough for him to leverage a gap out of the swim.
Johnny Brownlee has been a standout case. Since his 38th place in the European Champs in Athlone, he hadn’t missed a podium in 4 years until the Grand Final in Edmonton (4th). It was an important race because mathematically he was set to win the World Championship. However, in the end he lost the second spot to Mario Mola.
In Edmonton a few things stood out. His transitions were devastating. Compared to Alistair it was a poorly executed race and missed the podium.
In ITU the athletes are strong, but one error can completely derail a race. It is crucial to have the confidence to execute a perfect race, and also stay confident in the face of competitors. The Brownlees were like that in the London Olympics, seemingly unbeatable.
Is this the end?
If Jonathon wants to end this downward spiral, he must arrive at the race with the mindset that he will win.
Yet, in Abu Dhabi the Edmonton scenario repeated itself. He was 20 seconds behind out of the water and continued the difficultly by hitting a barrier on his exit from T1. His execution was off. On the bike he was trapped and unable to stay near the front of the bunch. The errors accumulated…
He then ran a 5km finishing over 30 seconds behind the winner, Mario Mola. It was a shock to the athlete was has many victories over the sprint distance. Since the ITU introduced the Sprint to the World Series no one has been as dominant in the distance. Post-race he admitted he didn’t have the legs coming off the bike. This was surprising to hear coming from an athlete who along with his brother have held off an entire chase pack of athletes on their own (Stockholm WTS).
More and more the capacity of Jonathan can be doubted in the absence of Alistair. He seemingly needs his brother by his side through the swim and the bike. Above all, he must find a way to regain his confidence.
The Brownlees have lost their World Titles from their inability to stay in form for the duration of the season. However on paper they still remain strong, but have they lost the confidence in themselves? Have they lost their psychological advantage?