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Grassroots to Glory - Georgia Taylor-Brown

A trying start for triathlon compettion Georgia Taylor-Brown.

Georiga at National Cross Country champions

Some Olympians take to their sports like ducks to water. In Georgia Taylor-Brown’s case, this was about 33.33 per cent true—the swimming portion went rather well on her first try.  Inconveniently, the main tenet of triathlon is three events, and the 15-year-old could have done without the cycling and running bits. She had only started racing on a bike after committing to training as a triathlete that year. 

“It was terrible,” said Taylor-Brown’s mum Beverly, 56, laughing as she recalled her daughter’s first meet. “She came off the bike because she had no bike handling skills at all, it was at Blenheim Palace and it was actually quite a big race.  Some of the girls that were in that were all the top British girls. She came out well on the swim and then on the bike. I think she came off as well, and then on the run, she used to have some issues around her diaphragm and problems with her stomach and she would be cramping up.  But yeah, it wasn't very good. I remember her finishing and crying in the tent afterwards. It got better after that.”

That is an understatement. Taylor-Brown, now 27, is one of five triathletes representing Team GB in Tokyo and has a chance at two medals, with mixed relay debuting at the Games this summer.  Great Britain is one of just four nations to qualify the maximum number of women, three, for Japan. 

Taylor-Brown will line up alongside compatriots Vicky Holland and Jess Learmonth for the women’s event, and two of the trio will also join Alex Yee and Jonny Brownlee for the mixed event around Odaiba Bay Marine Park. 

“It’s incredible to be a part of [this team],” gushed Olympic debutant Taylor-Brown, who is one of over 1,000 athletes to benefit from National Lottery funding, allowing her to train full time and access world class facilities, technology, coaching and support teams.

“It does really inspire me and motivate me. I just look forward to racing. I know that we’ve got such a strong team around us. I feel like wherever you are in a race there is going to be someone there for you. But usually, we’re all in the front pack. It is cool in races when you look through a bike pack and just see British flag, British flag, British flag all over the suits. It gives me goosebumps sometimes, just thinking, ‘this is cool. We are all here. This is amazing.”

Georgia competing in 2017

Manchester-Born Taylor-Brown, 27, started life as a swimmer, aged three. Hers was the sort of family in which it was not a matter of if she would compete in sport so much as which one, she would choose. Beverly swam at national level and ran for Sale Harriers. Dad Darryl Taylor, 56, ran the 800m for England. It was only natural, then, for the parents to plop their second eldest in the pool at Denton Swimming Club when she was a tot.

“Georgia always had lots and lots of energy and she was a very, very tiny little thing,” said Beverly. “Not very much to her. She did not eat very much, she used to run around a lot and was always a very energetic child. She did not sleep very much either. Absolute nightmare she was for those type of things! I think that's why we thought [we need to] find a way to contain this energy that she’s got.”

Taylor-Brown, said Beverly, managed to swim a mile in the “big pool” by age seven. Two years later she transferred to City of Manchester Aquatics, where she remained until she was 18 and started at Leeds Beckett University, also home to the world-class Leeds Triathlon Centre. The budding athlete’s teachers described the youngster as “perfect”—parents’ meetings were quick and easy—but swimming instructors were not always afforded the same decorum.

“She didn’t like listening when she was little,” Beverly recalled. “She spent most of the time under the water, and I used to get quite frustrated and say to the coach, ‘she’s not listening [if she’s] under the water all the time!’”

But what Taylor-Brown’s mum saw as a bane the coach viewed as a benefit, telling Beverly, “You know what, she’s got confidence. I will just leave her to it. That is what the little ones are like, you got to leave them to it.”

Swimming was Taylor-Brown’s first date with elite sport but running is her true love. By age 11, she was representing Greater Manchester as part of English Schools athletics, joining National Lottery-funded club the East Cheshire Harriers aged 13. 

Beverly remarked: “I think she really enjoyed the running, there was a little bit more focus away and the pressure about swimming wasn't so much anymore because she had something else to focus on. I think it's just the freedom of it and being outdoors. Swimming is just indoors, isn't it all the time? She absolutely adores cross-country. If you asked her about track, she hates it. Even now, she will not go on the track, she won’t set foot on a track.”

Her daughter readily agreed, though sometimes cycling sneaks into Taylor-Brown’s top spot. Swimming always comes in a distant third. “I’d take the Yorkshire Dales in a tent any day over the hustle and bustle of Japan,” quipped the Mancunian, who has seen the fortunes of Team GB transform over the past two decades thanks to National Lottery funding, helping Britain become one of the best sporting nations in the world.

“I just love riding my into the Dales and stopping at a café, and I do enjoy a really hard bike session and riding up the hills. But in a race, I would probably say the run, just because it is the final discipline and once, I am on two feet I know that I am safe, because whatever happens that’s on me. “

Georgia at the World Junior Cross Country competition

It was Beverly who first wondered about Taylor-Brown’s triple-sport potential and sent an enquiry to British Triathlon. Her email caught the attention of performance pathway manager Simon Mills, who invited Taylor-Brown to a talent identification day in Loughborough. If the rest is history, Taylor-Brown sped through the next chapters. Back-to-back double ETU European junior championship titles in 2012 and 2013 preceded world junior silver. A banner year 2018 included gold at the ETU Sprint Triathlon World Cup and a maiden ITU World Triathlon Series podium finish, claiming silver in front of her home crowd in Leeds, where she also enjoyed her first World Triathlon Series win the following year. 

In 2020, Taylor-Brown held off her Tokyo-bound teammates Learmonth and Holland - and everyone else - in Hamburg for her first world title, one that, as she deliriously put it on the day, “just sort of happened.”The life of a world champion is not always as glamorous as it sounds. Yorkshire’s unpredictable blusters could not be further from Tokyo’s sticky humidity—there is a reason Emily Bronte did not set Wuthering Heights in Harajuku—so Taylor-Brown got creative. 

Her pre-Tokyo regime has included running in waterproofs, using the turbo trainer next to the radiator whilst sporting full thermals, and taking scorching hot baths, fully-clothed—complete with a bobble hat. “When you first get into a bath, it’s really lovely, isn’t it?” she mused.

"And then you realise it’s too hot after a few minutes. Oh my god, I am just sweating now, I am just sitting here in my own sweat. I had to drain the bath and crawl out.  I just lay on the landing, I thought I was going to die.”

The pandemic has also helped the routine-aholic get accustomed to change, though she still has her traditions—a burger after every race, and lately a lot of Taylor Swift and Ziggy Alberts through the headphones. Sometimes, though, Taylor-Brown prefers a different playlist out on the Dales. Even more than the baths and bobble hats, it is the soundtrack that is arguably best prepared the world champion for her debut at the spectator-free Tokyo Games.

She said: “If I’m quite content and happy then I’ll go out and just listen to the silence. It’s nice not to hear anything at all, just to hear the wind is actually quite nice sometimes, just out on my own, listening to my own heartbeat and my own breath.”

That heart might be thumping a little louder lately, but long gone are the days of sobbing in a tent. Swim, bike, run—Georgia Taylor-Brown, Olympic triathlete, is 100 per cent ready.

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