Swimming pool pain turns to gain for Britain's triathlon stars

·3 mins read
Credit: British Triathlon
Credit: British Triathlon

Britain's top triathletes were locked out of swimming pools until mid-July and stunned coaches with their prowess in the water at last week's World Championships in Hamburg, writes Tom Harle.

Athletes based at universities in Loughborough and Bath were unable to swim for nearly four months and it was worse for those in Leeds.

Georgia Taylor-Brown, Alex Yee and Jess Learmonth couldn't access facilities at Leeds Beckett University and council-owned John Charles Sports Centre until very recently.

But they outperformed rivals who enjoyed greater training freedoms, Learmonth leading the field coming out of the water and Taylor-Brown swimming superbly to win gold in Hamburg.

Performance Director Mike Cavendish said: "I think we exceeded expectations across the board. Our athletes have coped remarkably well.

"We're one of the countries who have been most restricted in training, more than other European nations in particular.

"Athletes have all been able to train to the same level of intensity from a bike and run perspective than if Covid wasn't around. The big problem was swim.

"More or less everyone swum well to set their races up and to do that off the back of relatively limited, interrupted swim training was really positive."

The secret was a perfectly-timed heavy training camp on the Gold Coast in February.

Open water was the focus of the intense block, leaving athletes both accustomed to that form of swimming and ready for a rest with a stint in Abu Dhabi cancelled.

"I think we got lucky," Cavendish said.

"The fact that lockdown started as soon as we landed back in the UK wasn't a bad thing and the loss of pools didn't hit as hard because of the way we set that camp up.

"We got the guys treadmills and turbo trainers when they didn't have one but they were having to drive down to Loughborough or train in open water.

"They came back from Australia quite keen on open water so it was easier for us."

Managing athlete mental health was a key priority with the Olympics postponed and facilities closed with British Triathlon checking in with their charges on a regular basis.

Rio bronze medallist Vicky Holland took time out of training to hone her baking and learn French, while two-time Olympic champion Alistair Brownlee continued training at home.

Holland finished 31st in Hamburg, but left the water in 12th. Credit: British Triathlon
Holland finished 31st in Hamburg, but left the water in 12th. Credit: British Triathlon

"We've touched base if we felt people were struggling but on the whole they've coped remarkably well," said Cavendish.

"They've made sensible decisions and went to Hamburg in decent shape. Those who didn't knew where they were at.

"To come out with a world champion in Georgia absolutely exceeded my expectations. We all knew she was capable of it but didn't know what shape she or anyone else was in."

Taylor-Brown and Learmonth compete again this weekend at the ITU World Cup in Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic, while the final racing for British triathletes this year is likely to come at the World Cup in Arzachena, Italy on October 10.

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