Had the man from the council got his way, Alistair Brownlee might not have made it to Hyde Park for what could be one of the most extraordinary stories of the London Olympics; a battle for triathlon gold not only with the rest of the field but with his younger brother, Jonathan.
Alistair suffered a serious achilles injury earlier this year and he has only recovered in time because of a special swimming pool he had installed in the garden of his Yorkshire home; one that incorporated an underwater treadmill that not only hastened that recovery but enabled him to keep training.
The installation was not without its problems, however. First came the need for a few mates to dig the hole and then the arrival of a planning officer.
‘The neighbours all claimed to be all right with it but one day some little man from the council came round and asked if I had planning permission,’ said Alistair. ‘I guess someone must have complained.
‘It has to be under 50 per cent of the size of your garden. Luckily, when we measured it, I think it was about 49 per cent. And that’s not because the pool is big by the way. It’s about 16 feet long.’
According to their coach, the chap did take some ‘persuading’. ‘He had to be convinced his measurements were slightly out,’ said Malcolm Arnold with a smile. It is just as well that he was. ‘I was really worried about the injury,’ said Alistair.
‘I was concerned it would snap again. When I discovered I had the tear, I thought, “I’m going to have to do something special here to get myself in shape for the Olympics”.
‘Aqua jogging is the most boring thing in the world. I was doing this in a public pool in public sessions, with kids jumping on my head and old grannies telling me I shouldn’t be there.
‘But once I had my cast removed I could get to use the new pool and I was up to almost normal running volume on the treadmill. I did it for five weeks, slowly making the transition into running.’
It would have been terribly sad had the elder of the two Brownlees not been fit enough to compete. Last year, Alistair was crowned world champion for a second time, while Jonny was the World Under 23 champion the previous year, finishing second to his brother in the seniors in 2011.
In Alistair’s absence, Jonny started this season with two world series wins, with Alistair winning the round in Kitzbuhel on his return. They are seriously committed. Having once been fortunate enough to spend a day training with them I could see as much.
Alistair is a former English schools cross-country champion who has also competed for Great Britain as a senior international cross-country runner. Jonathan is no slouch either and both of them were also county swimmers.
It makes them among the fastest in the open-water 1500m swim, while all those miles in the Yorkshire Dales make them hard to beat on the bike stage, too.
It is raw talent, however, that has allowed Alistair to overcome his injury setback so quickly.
‘When I looked at him in March I never thought he’d be in this position now,’ said Jonny.
‘He was depressed; he’d put weight on. He was different.
‘A few times I did feel a bit guilty, going out training without him. But all sportsmen have to be a bit selfish. I just thought, “Sod him, I have to look after myself”.’
It isn’t normal. The whole situation. But for the best part of two hours it will be fascinating.
By MATT LAWTON
PUBLISHED: 22:00, 6 August 2012