London 2012: Triathlete Helen Jenkins happy to avoid spotlight

By Ollie WilliamsBBC Olympic sports reporter

Helen Jenkins is happy in the shadow of triathlon's Brownlee brothers.

While Alistair and Jonny Brownlee rack up victories, headlines and hype around their potential for an Olympic one-two, British team-mate Jenkins holds the women's triathlon world title and has a strong chance of gold at London 2012.

She cannot rival the column inches the Brownlees generate, but she may yet beat them at cards.

The three occupy an outdoor table at a resort on Lanzarote's north coast, on a still December evening during two weeks of warm-weather training.

The game is Texas hold 'em. "Helen's a bit of an expert," warns Jonny Brownlee, to Jenkins' left as she deals.

"I know how to play. I just don't play very well though," she counters. "Jonny won last year."

"But Helen's been to Vegas," he points out. The poker faces are on.

Rarely do British triathlon's three finest products train and socialise together like this, away from races. Jenkins is based in Bridgend, which has been her home town from a young age, with coach and husband Marc. The Brownlees train in Yorkshire.

There is an easy familiarity between them, though. Alistair, the senior Brownlee at 23, discusses books he has read this season. Jonny, 21, excitedly reports to Jenkins, 27, that Football Manager is now available on a Mac.

The thought that all three of them could, should, have Olympic medals by this time next year feels remote.

"Coming out here is always a good kick-off to the season," says Jenkins, who will return to Lanzarote for a second time in early 2012, nearer to the start of the new season in April.

"We've been coming here for a few years but I didn't expect, at the start of last year, to be coming back as the world champion."

Jenkins won only one of the seven races which went towards the 2011 world title. It was her consistency in the others, recording three second-place finishes, which saw her push ahead of her closest rival, New Zealand's Andrea Hewitt, and win the title.

However, the one race Jenkins did win was in London. And, having finished 21st at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 despite winning the world title (then a one-off race) in the same year, she knows how important getting it right on the day will be in 2012.

"My main aim in 2011 was Hyde Park. It was all about the one race in August. That was pretty much our Olympic selection race.

"Hyde Park was incredible; I've not experienced support like that in a race before. Considering we raced at 8.30 in the morning there were a lot of people out, even at the farthest point of the course, shouting for British athletes by name.

"We finished at 10.30 and I didn't get back to my hotel for five more hours after all the drug testing and media. It was intense, but that pressure you put on yourself for that one day is why we wanted it to be the one focus for the year. That replicated the Olympics."

Since that world title in 2008 - a result she admits shocked even her - Jenkins has embarked upon a steady, relentless slog towards the summit, knowing the consistency which won her the 2011 world title will make a gold medal-winning performance on 4 August 2012 all the more likely.

Her journey to London 2012 is in marked contrast to that of the Brownlees. Since a teenage Alistair finished 12th at Beijing 2008, the brothers have swept all before them in a remarkably short period.

"Alistair has won over 50% of his World Championship Series races, and that's amazing. That's such an achievement. And because there's two of them…" Jenkins trails away, as awestruck as anyone at the Brownlee family.

"It's been a slower progression for me. Ali was 12th at the 2008 Olympics then won every race he entered in 2009. I just haven't had that sort of explosion on to the scene.

"I've been around longer and more under the radar. But I'm not after the media spotlight. I love doing triathlon and I'm aiming for gold at London 2012, but I'm never after getting my name in all the papers or being on the front of the magazine."

This hand is reaching its climax. Jenkins produces a pair of threes. Jonny Brownlee, a pair of sevens. Alistair Brownlee is last to show.

"Ooh, three fives. Unlucky. Thank you very much," he beams, marshalling an unwieldy pile of chips back to his side of the table.

Chalk up another Brownlee win, something the British media expects at London 2012 with ever-increasing fervour.

"You could start to think Olympic gold is in the bag, especially on the men's side," says Jenkins. "But the athletes don't think like that.

"Your training is what makes you ready for gold, not reading the papers. The group we've got are doing well because they're driven and motivated and not listening to all the other stuff going on."