The best triathlete in the world and his family
Rio 2016 saw Great Britain’s Alistair Brownlee retain the Olympic triathlon title he won on home soil at London 2012. Accompanying him on the podium on both occasions was his brother Jonathan. A bronze medallist in the British capital, the younger of the Brownlee siblings picked up silver in Rio to complete a famous family one-two.
A family affair at Rio 2016
No one was going to stop Alistair Brownlee from retaining his Olympic title at Rio 2016, not even younger brother Jonathan. Positioned in the leading group throughout the third Olympic triathlon of his career, Alistair lay fourth after the 1,500m swim, clocking a time of 17.24, and moved up to second after climbing off the bike in 1:13.52.
With his sibling for company in the 10km run, Alistair eventually eased into the lead and completed the final 2.5km lap out on his own. Cheered on by an impressive crowd, he finished in 1:45:01, six seconds ahead of Jonathan.
Having fulfilled a lifelong dream by completing a historic one-two to go with their gold and bronze at London 2012, the exhausted Brownlees shared an emotional embrace beyond the finish line before collapsing to the ground side-by-side.
A momentous achievement
“It’s fabulous, we wanted the gold and silver in London in 2012 and this time we’ve pulled it off,” said Alistair. “When Jonny crossed the line, I said to him, ‘We’ve done it’. We’ve both gone through some tough times and we’ve been pushing each other to the max. To see your little brother come over the line a few seconds after you is phenomenal.”
The Brownlees were back in the news a month later, in the 2016 ITU World Triathlon Grand Final in Cozumel (MEX), where they caught the hearts and the imagination of the sports world with a stirring show of brotherly love.
Seemingly on course for victory, Jonathan was struck by heat exhaustion a matter of yards from the finish line, with Alistair and Rio 2016 bronze medallist Ronald Schoeman of South Africa just behind him. While Schoeman kicked on for victory, Alistair stopped to come to his brother’s aid, pulling his arm around him and helping him over the line. Images of the moving rescue act were shown around the world.
The road to the top
Alistair Brownlee took up triathlon during his student days, which would see him awarded a degree in Sports Science and Physiology and an MSc in Finance.
After winning the junior world title in Lausanne (SUI) in 2006, he decided to devote his energies fully to the sport, and was the best-placed British athlete in the Beijing 2008 triathlon, finishing 12th. A year later he won his first ITU world title in Gold Coast (AUS).
His preparations for the London Games were then hampered by injuries. A stress fracture of the femur put paid to his 2010 season, though he bounced back to win a second world crown the following year. Then, in February 2012, just a few months before his home Olympics, he tore an Achilles tendon, causing him no little frustration.
“It got to the stage where I wondered if I was ever going to get better or just be able to train and run properly again,” said Alistair, who nevertheless got back to his best with a couple of wins in the lead-up to London 2012.
“I’ve missed three months of training, which is never ideal when the Games are three months away,” he added. “That’s the way things can go, though. Olympic years are always strange. There’s no chance of me doing too much, though, as I only started training again six weeks ago. That’s the only positive thing I suppose.”
A high point in Hyde Park
Full fitness restored, Alistair took to the start line in London as one of the favourites for gold in a 54-strong field. Emerging from the 1,500m swim tucked safely into the leading group, he made sure he stayed there on the 47km cycling leg, which took in some of the British capital’s most iconic landmarks. His bid for gold would come on the 10km run, which he began with his brother and Spain’s Javier Gomez, another of the pre-race contenders, for company.
Urged on by the large crowds lining the route, Alistair gradually pulled clear, eventually taking the tape in a new Olympic record time of 1:46.25, a full 11 seconds ahead of Gomez. Jonathan came in third, 31 seconds off the pace, having earlier picked up a 15-second penalty for mounting his bike too early in the transition zone.
“The race was unbelievable and the crowds were amazing,” said Alistair after collecting the host nation’s 19th gold of the London Games. “My ears are still ringing from all that noise.”
In the four years that followed that momentous win, Alistair Brownlee continued in largely the same vein, claiming the European title in Kitzbühel (AUT) in 2014, a year in which he also won gold at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. He recorded World Cup wins in Cape Town (RSA) and London, with brother Jonny keeping pace by crossing the line first in Auckland (NZL) and Gold Coast. Alistair’s Achilles tendon continued to give him problems, however, ultimately prompting him to undergo surgery in August 2015.
On making his competitive return in April the following year, the older of the two Brownlees said he was feeling “pretty confident” about the Rio Games, adding: “If things go my way, I get a bit of luck, and my ankle doesn’t flare up, then I might just make the start line in Rio in the best possible shape. Stamina is all you can ask for when you’re an athlete.”
A rematch in Tokyo?
In Brazil, Alistair became the first triathlete to win back-to-back Olympic titles. Reacting to his achievement, he said: “In London, I was seen as a dead cert and they were giving me the medal before I started. My main feeling afterwards was relief. I can enjoy this one so much more.”His little brother has not given up hope of getting the better of him on the Olympic stage, however. After his Rio silver, Jonathan was already setting his sights on Tokyo 2020: “I’m used to getting beaten by Alistair but I‘ve gone better than last time in London when I got the bronze. I’ve actually been training a bit better than him and if it had come down to a sprint, I could have won. Maybe in four years, he’ll be older, slower and greyer.”