British triathletes Helen Jenkins, Jonathan Brownlee and his brother Alistair, all favored to win gold medals at their home Olympic Games, agree that the course around London is missing one thing: a challenging climb.
“In an ideal world the bike course would have a big hill in it and the run would have a hill in it as well,” Alistair Brownlee said in an interview. “But it’s in London, and you can’t really have a hill in London.”
The fourth Olympic triathlon will include a maximum ascent of about 35 feet (10.7 meters) from Buckingham Palace to Hyde Park Corner. Jenkins and the Brownlee brothers will begin their race with a 1.5-kilometer (0.9-mile) swim across Hyde Park’s Serpentine lake, followed by seven cycling laps totaling 40 kilometers and a 10-kilometer run to finish off.
The three Britons, who compete in the U.K.’s fastest- growing sport, are favored by bookmakers to win the races on Aug. 4 and Aug. 7 and give Britain its first medals in a sport that made its Olympic debut in Sydney 12 years ago. Jenkins is favorite with odds of 4-6 in the women’s competition, according to U.K. bookmaker Blue Square Ltd., which rates the Brownlees as the 6-4 joint-favorites for the men’s title.
Jenkins’s victory in the World Triathlon Series event in San Diego on May 11 lifted her atop the 2012 season rankings. She’s skipping this weekend’s race in Kitzbuhel, Austria, and will complete her Olympic tuneup July 22 in Hamburg, Germany.
Qualifying for the Beijing Olympics four years ago was a victory in itself after injuries dogged her throughout 2006 and 2007, Jenkins, 28, said in a June 8 interview at Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of former U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Her qualification for the London games 10 months ago has helped smooth her buildup, the 5-foot-6 Welsh athlete said.
“I’ve had a lot more time just to focus on getting ready for that one day,” Jenkins said. “It’s a very fast course and you have to be going really fast on the day to actually win.”
Alistair Brownlee, 24, qualified in September, though an injury to his Achilles tendon earlier this year stalled his training schedule. During his absence, younger brother Jonathan, 22, secured back-to-back World Triathlon Series victories in San Diego and Madrid and has risen to No. 3 in the rankings.
Competing in the June 9 triathlon at Blenheim Palace, 60 miles northwest of London, the brothers won in a dead heat after both posted a time of 57 minutes, 16 seconds.
While the idea of crossing the Olympic finish line together appeals, it doesn’t come without risk as international events use a photograph to determine a winner, Alistair Brownlee said.
“They would see who actually won, which would be a bit rubbish if you thought you were going to finish and you slowed down to cross the line with your brother and you got second,” he said. “If we were in that situation, which would be the ideal situation, we would be running as fast as we can.”
Javier Gomez of Spain, who was fourth in Beijing, will be among the biggest threats in the 55-man field in London, the brothers said. This weekend’s race in Kitzbuhel will be their last before the Olympic event and they plan to spend the next four weeks training in Switzerland.
“There is a lot of more pressure because it’s the Olympics and there is a lot more media interest,” Jonathan Brownlee said. “I try not to think about it or worry about it.”
Great Britain’s triathlon team is sponsored by General Electric Co. (GE:US), which has contributed a scanner capable of tracking small physical changes caused by training or nutrition. One of the 11 sponsors who make up the so-called Olympics TOP program, GE is also providing equipment ranging from lights to diagnostic technology during the games.
GE also has an individual agreement with Jonathan Brownlee, while GE Capital supports Jenkins.
“Triathlon is a young sport and it’s the fastest-growing sport in the U.K.,” Simon Langford, GE’s London 2012 spokesman, said in an interview. “There are a number of world-beating athletes here and if we can get them running around with a GE logo on their chest, then that’s great publicity.”
According to British Triathlon, participation numbers have more than doubled in the past five years. The Loughborough, England-based governing body has about 350 affiliated clubs and more than 14,000 members.
Neither Jenkins nor the Brownlees plan to leave the sport anytime soon.
Jenkins said she wants to represent Wales at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland. The Brownlees envision one day competing in the annual Ironman World Championship in Hawaii, which consists of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run. Jonathan says he dreams of running across Europe, although Alistair would only join him if it were a race.
For now, their focus is making the short ascent up the medal dais at the London games.
“Triathlon is an unpredictable sport and the Olympics is not very often won by the favorite either,” Jenkins said. “You have to be on the lookout for everyone.”
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