Olympic dreams: Jessica Learmonth reflects on a golden summer – Interviews

The TRI247 team recently had the pleasure of joining Super League Triathlon at the central London premiere of their superb new documentary series, Every Second Counts.

You can watch part one of now, which features the London round of the SLT Championship Series through the eyes of the Golden QuartetGreat Britain’s Olympic gold medal winning Mixed Relay Triathlon squad.

What is the impact of winning an Olympic gold medal? That was something I spoke about to the lead off athlete in that team, Jessica Learmonth.

Great Britain win the first ever Olympic Games mixed relay triathlon at Tokyo 2020.

That Olympic feeling

Coming back to that Super League launch, one of the most interesting takeaways for us was from Jess’ great friend and training partner, Georgia Taylor-Brown, who was part of the Q&A panel prior to the premiere.

She described a strange feeling in those weeks after returning home – of being lost almost – where, naturally, everyone asking ‘how does it feel to be an Olympic champion?’… and not really knowing what you are supposed to say or feel. If the world was supposed to change… and it didn’t… then what happens next?!

Olympic Games Mixed Relay Triathlon Tokyo 2020

That feeling wasn’t unique to GTB, as Jess explained to me when I asked her how she reflects on Tokyo now, some six months on from the events of the Odaiba Marina Park venue.

“It’s funny, because I had the exact same thing… to be honest, I still do.

“The amount of people who say, ‘How does it feel to be an Olympic medallist’ or whatever… I don’t know! Obviously you are delighted, but it’s really difficult to kind of put your emotions into it.

Family pride

“The only way I can explain it, is now that the hype is over, the Olympics is gone, everything has moved on and you are back into your normal life, I think just enjoying the little moments, the randomly sitting down and thinking, ‘Oh, I’ve got that Olympic medal’, it’s just a nice thought thinking bloody hell, that actually happened.

“Obviously you don’t think about it most of the time, life goes on, but it’s times like when I’ve not seen family as I’m still catching up, and they will say ‘can you bring the medal?’, and you get it out and they are like, ‘Wow!’, and it’s then that you think that it is mad, that’s actually mine.”

Sophie Coldwell, Jess Learmonth - World Triathlon Abu Dhabi 2021

The Olympic dream? Actually, no!

While sporty at school, international sporting ambitions were something that really only came onto the Learmonth radar much later in life.

“Although it’s sunk in a little bit more, it still hasn’t if you know what I mean? And for me – and I hate to say it, because it sounds like I don’t appreciate it, which is not the case – I never grew up thinking I wanted to be an Olympic champion. Even going to the Olympics was such a milestone for me, certainly after the injury I didn’t think I would even go.

“Getting over the injury, and having such a stressful time in the lead up to the Olympics, to now six months later, enjoying training again because there’s no pressure to perform. I can enjoy going out and doing a session – and if it doesn’t go well, it doesn’t matter. Leading into the Olympics and if you didn’t do a good session, you know that British Triathlon are looking at the data, and you are thinking ‘oh god!’.

“I don’t know… I just feel really content. A bit of a long answer…. but that’s my way of summing it up. I just think that everything is such a bonus, I’m really happy and content.”

Jessica Learmonth

good timing

Happy and content. That’s a great place for anyone to be in life and for an athlete, there’s always the next race to look forward to.

If there was any post-Tokyo haze to overcome, then four weeks of back-to-back racing, in four different international locations, courtesy of the Super League Triathlon Championship Series will soon bring you back to reality.

While describing SLT racing as “intense”, as it turned out, the scheduling proved to be ideal.

“I think it was really good to have that after the Olympics because I was really surprised at how I performed. After the Olympics I went on holiday with Jon [Ed. Jess’ partner] to Bend, Oregon and I did a bit of training, but I really couldn’t push myself and wasn’t bothered about any specific sessions.

“My main motivation was not to embarrass myself! I was really shocked at how I performed – it was good fun, so it really came at a good time.”

Winning in London, Munich and Jersey, Learmonth certainly didn’t embarrass herself, even if the overall series title slipped away with fourth place in Malibu. That it was her friend Taylor-Brown who topped the table will have significantly softened any disappointment.

Jessica Learmonth / Super League Triathlon London
Photo Credit: Darren Wheeler – That Cameraman / SuperLeague

If 2021 was a golden year, 2022 offers up a veritable feast of options for athletes. Those plans will feature in the second part of out interview series with Jess, very soon.

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