IT’S not every day you get the chance to compete alongside a couple of Olympic medal-winners. So it was perhaps no surprise that more than 700 athletes lined up alongside Olympic medal-winning triathletes Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee in the inaugural Brownlee Tri South event at Petworth House.
The brothers have taken it upon themselves to raise the sporting profile of triathlon as a part of the bid to create a lasting legacy to London 2012.
And the grounds of the National Trust’s Petworth House was chosen as their first venue in the south. The 700-acre site was awash with nervous athletes and many spectators were present to cheer on loved ones on Father’s Day.
The beauty of the West Sussex countryside was not lost on the siblings as Alistair Brownlee said: “It’s not all about the sport. It is also about encouraging people to enjoy being outside and active in a nice environment. Petworth Park fits really nicely.”
Jonathan Brownlee added: “It is spectacular – the house is beautiful and it is just a nice place to be. For the Brownlee Tri we wanted to take triathlon to places like this. On a summer’s day there is nowhere better.”
Entrants were due to take part in a triathlon but the course was altered at late notice after a water test led to the removal of the swimming element of the race for safety reasons. It is thought there was too much weed in the lake for the swimmers to be allowed in.
There was some disappointment surrounding this but it was quickly forgotten once the racing got under way. Jonathan Brownlee summed up his feelings on Twitter, saying, “Hope everyone had a great day, shame the swim was cancelled but Mother Nature can be cruel sometimes.”
After the changes there was the opportunity to enter two duathlon events. First, the Super-Sprint category, entailing a 2k run followed by a 16k cycle, ending in a final sprint of 2.5k.
The other event was the harder individual sprint which consisted of a 2k run, a longer 29.5k bike ride, and a final 5k run.
The fastest pair around the sprint category was Andrew Greenleaf for the men, finishing in one hour and six seconds, and Sarah Allen, who clocked one hour and 20 seconds. Finn Barnes registered the quickest time in the super-sprint male category (40min 11sec).
The super sprint class produced the highlight of the day. Spectators and runners alike were treated to a fine performance from two-time Olympic gold medallist Dame Kelly Holmes, who cruised to victory in 49min 39sec. Holmes, who is training to become a world duathlon champion, spoke to the Observer at the finish line.
“What’s great about a triathlon or a duathlon is that it is a multi-sport event, so you don’t have to feel like you’re the best at the one discipline, which can sometimes put people off,” she said.
“You can have strengths across every single one. The atmosphere is always great and I find these events really relaxing.”
As for the Brownlee Tri and the Petworth course, Holmes said: “ I really enjoyed it – it was very undulating, no-one told me about the hills, I don’t do hills! Petworth Park is a really beautiful location, a really great venue and the organisation has been brilliant.”
Asked about her own performance and progress in training, she said: “It’s hard to fit the training in with normal life, and the cycling is still a real challenge but my goal this year for myself is to do a duathlon every month. I started in January, so I am still on target.”
Triathlon is the fastest-growing Olympic sport with a 31 per cent rise in participation levels after the London Olympics.
With this in mind, there was also the chance for children to ‘try a tri’. That included a 500m cycle, a fun fancy dress transition race and a timed run.
Local youngster Emma Coulter was one of the many children who took the chance to try the event and she thoroughly enjoyed herself saying: “I enjoyed all of it but my favourite bit was the fancy dress, and getting Jonny Brownlee’s autograph on my certificate.”
All in the entire event should be considered as a resounding success and event manager Ian Pearce summed up the feelings of all involved.
He said: “It’s great to open the park up to a whole new audience and a very exciting sporting event.”