Jonny Brownlee said he is looking to use the ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi on Friday as a launchpad for an assault on the Commonwealth Games and World Series this year.
The Briton makes his first start of the year after a relatively quiet 2017 following his exploits the previous 12 months.
Jonny won a silver medal at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro behind older brother Alistair. Shortly thereafter, a dramatic end to the ITU World Triathlon Series Grand Final in Cozumel, Mexico, provided one of the most inspiring moments in sports history.
Jonny, 27, led the race with the finish line less than a kilometre away before suddenly staggering over to a water station. Alistair, 29, who was in a battle for second with Henri Schoeman of South Africa, veered over, pulled Jonny’s arm over his shoulder and began hauling him along.
When the Brownlees reached the finish, Alistair pushed Jonny across the line in second. Jonny immediately collapsed and was admitted to a hospital, suffering from dehydration.
Schoeman raced on for the win, and Jonny conceded both events "took a toll on me".
“I also had a few injuries that put me out for that year,” Jonny said at the launch ceremony at the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Yas Island on Wednesday. “I hope to put all my bad luck out of it this year. It’s one of those things that you can do nothing about it. I hope I can do better this year.”
Jonny's main target is a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games on Australia's Gold Coast in April. He conceded he "hasn't had the best of winters so far" but said victory in Abu Dhabi would be good for his confidence and provide the "perfect start for me for the World Series".
“The Commonwealth Games is very, very important for me and my country.
“I haven’t had the best of winters so far, but I hope my form is better than I think in this race. And then [after I can] go to Gold Coast and train for the next five-six weeks, and be at the start line for that race in the best possible form that I can be. It’s a sprint race again and it’s the first time a sprint format [will be held] in a major Games.
“The aim for the next three or four years is to win major races like in Gold Coast and Tokyo" where the 2022 Olympic Games will be held.
Alistair has been ruled out of this year's event due to injury, and Jonny said his brother's absence would be keenly felt.
“I would certainly miss him a lot. We like to race in similar ways, but I have done lots of races now without him because of the injuries over the years. I have got used to it without him ... but I know there’s something missing when he’s not there.”
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Joining Jonny in the capital are the men's and women's world champions, Mario Mola and Flora Duffy, Paralympic gold medalist Andy Lewis and reigning WTS Abu Dhabi champion, Andrea Hewitt.
“It's exciting to be back here in Abu Dhabi,” Hewitt said. “Last year was a really special win so I'm looking forward to racing on Friday.
“I've been here a few days working with the Tri Belles and meeting some young female triathletes from the UAE. It's pretty exciting to see these triathletes coming through in the Middle East, and I'll be down there on Saturday supporting the age groupers, too.”
Organiser have introduced several new categories for this year's race, including a dedicated wave for Para athletes, whilst the race will also see Special Olympics World Games triathletes compete for the first time.
“To everyone involved with the triathlon, I really want to show Abu Dhabi and the rest of the world that Para triathletes train just as hard as the elite able bodied,” said Lewis, Britain's 2016 Rio Paralympic gold medalist.
“Inclusivity is really important to me and it's important for people to see what we do. I look up to many of the elites competing, but it's really the kids competing that inspire me.”