Getting Active

GB Triathlon Stars Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee on Getting Children Active and The Commonwealth Games

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Written by Tim Barnes-Clay

Last time we sat down with Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee – whose stunning victory in the men’s triathlon at London 2012 left the entire nation awestruck – we spoke about the unique brotherly bond that sparked their Olympic success and the importance family has played in their sporting accomplishments. 

The brothers were also keen on sharing their motivation for sport with the next generation, having just become brand ambassadors for Warburtons and their new ‘Half and Half’ campaign. 

Two years later, the lads from Yorkshire have their sights firmly set on their first taste of the Commonwealth Games – taking place in Glasgow – and continue to excel in the demanding field of triathlon. 

They have also retained their passion for getting families active, launching the ‘Half and Half-Term Games’ as part of their takeover of the Warburtons’ Facebook page this half-term – promoting daily challenges across the holidays and offering nutritional tips.   

Sam Skelding caught up with the Olympic heroes to talk about how their 2014 season is shaping up, why sport doesn’t have to be complicated and looking ahead to the Commonwealth Games.

Thoughts on the Warburtons campaign so far?

Alistair: It’s been great. This is actually a continuation of the last campaign, which is also encouraging kids to get outside and active over the half-term. This time we’re working off the fact that the Commonwealth Games are ahead and hopefully they can be an inspiration just like the Olympic Games were two years ago.

You’ve created the Half and Half Term Games. What activities are involved?

Alistair: Well we’ve come up with ten different activities; they’re all pretty simple and can be done anywhere and anytime. The point is that you can encourage kids to get active and you don’t really need anything special. You can just enjoy having a bit of fun and that can include everything from tug of war to running races in the garden.

What’s stopping kids being active?

Jonny: I think it’s a number of factors; one is definitely the options that kids have available now – the fact that they’re always on computer games. That’s why we’re trying to put together these games and show you can have fun virtually anywhere, it’s all about getting outside and doing exciting things. I think another aspect is also cultural – our general culture now is probably more sedate and lazy. In some ways, sport is not seen as being that trendy, but hopefully London 2012 changed that a bit and the Commonwealth Games this year can really help show sport can be cool.

How can parents tear their children away from laptops?

Jonny: I think just getting across with the message that sport is simple. You don’t need anything whatsoever to do it and even activities like going for a walk in the woods can be great, it’s all about teaching them it’s fun to explore the outdoors and to enjoy that. For some reason, people have this idea that sport has to be boring or involve going to the gym and doing lots of dull things, but we have to let kids know that’s far from the case.

Food is another factor for children. How did you guys learn about nutrition?

Alistair: Most of it has just been picked up along the way. We eat a normal diet as you’d expect – a balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats – we also try and get our five fruit and veg in a day. The only difference with us being that we do have to eat more because we exercise more and eat a touch more protein to compensate for muscle breakdown, but it’s not really rocket science and although we have had input from nutritionists, it’s just all about balance.

You’ve inspired new generations on the global stage. Are there any moments that stand as inspirational for you?

Jonny: Absolutely, I remember watching the triathlon at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 as I got up in the middle of the night to watch that. The Tour de France also stands out; I’ve watched plenty of those over the years. Come to think of it I do have to mention another moment from Sydney – Kathy Freeman running the 400 metres in front of her home crowd, which was just amazing.

Has the way you look back on London 2012 changed at all?

Jonny: I don’t think the way we look back on it has really changed, the whole day itself was incredible and I was pleased to get a medal – getting to share the occasion with Alistair made it even more special. Although it feels like it happened, it does feel a long way away now.

Is part of that the ‘take one race at a time’ mentality?

Jonny: Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean I had a race a couple of weeks after the Olympics and straight away, that was all I was thinking about. That’s just way you need to approach the sport because losing concentration is the worst thing that can happen.

You both raced on the F1 track in Abu Dhabi. I’m sure that was interesting?

Alistair: It was just a really great race. It was a good thing to do early in the year because the different distances give you something else to focus on. I really enjoyed it, obviously the event was incredible and Abu Dhabi is a fantastic city to visit. Racing on the F1 track was an interesting experience and we both did well – it was just nice to get a good result.

In term of this season, the World Triathlon Series is underway. How has it begun?

Jonny: I started in Auckland and came second, and then I had another race in Cape Town on Sunday where I came second again to the same Spanish guy, but winter training has gone really well. It’s been a nice winter at home, not too cold and not too much snow; there are still plenty of races to go in the series so hopefully I can become World Champion by the end!

Alistair: After my injury I’m now going to have to do all of the remaining five races so hopefully everything goes OK, obviously with the Commonwealth Games ahead that’s the priority, so we’ll see how everything goes.

You mentioned the ‘Spanish guy’. Is the rivalry building with Javier Gomez something you welcome?

Alistair: Absolutely, Javier Gomez was a fantastic athlete before we came onto the triathlon scene and we both have a tremendous amount of respect for him. It’s been great racing him and I think he’s brought the best out of both of us.

Some have questioned the prestige of the Commonwealth Games in the past?

Alistair: Well we didn’t get a chance to race and compete last time because the triathlon event didn’t even exist, so we definitely see it as the priority for this season, for me, it’s just as important as a world title.

The Games are taking place in Britain, have the Olympics changed how we support our athletes?

Alistair: Yeah I definitely think there’s been a big influence. Triathlon is a niche sport and it got a massive increase in publicity after the Olympics, people following the sport as a whole after the Games has been absolutely brilliant and I think the Commonwealth Games will carry on that momentum.

It’s in Glasgow, does it feel like a ‘home’ Games?

Alistair: I think it does. I mean although you’re actually racing for England in the Commonwealth – Glasgow is probably slightly closer to us than London is anyway. I suppose it does feel like a bit like a ‘home’ Games.

Plus, you’re from Yorkshire and last time, the Games were held in Manchester?

Jonny: Yeah, that’s definitely not home! [Laughter]

Alistair, I believe you had been thinking about racing the 10,000 metres?

Alistair: It’s something I’ve always wanted to do but unfortunately, the qualifying race is in ten days time and the last few weeks of training just haven’t been good enough to move forward. It’s something I may come back to in the future, but who knows.

Talking of trying new challenges, can you relate to Mo Farah’s marathon ambitions?

Jonny: Yes, I understand it completely. As far the 5k and 10k goes, he’s achieved everything he wanted to achieve and he needed a new goal, the marathon was that. Maybe it didn’t go perfectly, but it’s still important to set that target and that’s what he’s done.

What’s next for you both?

Alistair: We’ll both be competing in the next round of the World Series and have a race in London a few weeks after – obviously followed by the Games in Glasgow. Then the focus will probably shift to Rio in two years time!