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Respective gold and bronze medallists in an unforgettable men’s triathlon at London 2012, brothers Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee have stayed at the top of their game on the road to Rio and have every intention of starring together again on the Olympic stage.
“My brother and I have had this on our minds for the last seven years, since London was named as the host city for the 2012 Games, and even more so in the last four. Then in the last two years people have been talking to us about winning two medals. To come here and do it in front of this crowd is just amazing.”
It was with those words that Alistair Brownlee responded to his Olympic triathlon win at London 2012. Standing alongside him that day was his brother Jonathan, who finished with a bronze medal despite incurring a 15-second time penalty for mounting his bike too early in the transition zone. It was an unforgettable moment for the Brownlee boys, who had the cheers of tens of thousands of British fans ringing in their ears.
Getting to the top of the podium did not come easy to the older of the Brownlees, however. A junior world champion in 2006 and a dominant force on the global circuit since winning his first ITU world title three years later, Alistair had his preparations for the London Games 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.
Reflecting on his run of injury setbacks, he said: “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.”
After then managing to get a few weeks solid training in, Alistair made his competitive return in early June at the Blenheim Palace Triathlon, an event in which he shared victory with his sibling. Before the month was out, Alistair was winning a World Cup race in Kitzbühel.
With two months to go before the big event, was he back to his very best? “I think that’s putting a bit of an optimistic spin on things,” he replied at the time. “I’ve missed three months of training, which is never ideal when the Games are three months away. 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 that would be cheered on by thousands of fans massed along the cycling route, which took in some of the British capital’s most iconic landmarks.
Emerging from the 1,500m swim tucked safely into the leading group, he made sure he stayed there on the 47km cycling leg before breaking away on the 10km run with only his brother for company and Spain’s Javier Gomez, another of the pre-race contenders. Urged on by the crowds, 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, with Jonathan coming in third, 31 seconds off the pace.
“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.”
The road to gold
In the four years that have followed since that momentous win, Alistair Brownlee has continued in pretty much the same vein, though his Achilles tendon has continued to give him problems and prompted him to undergo an operation in August 2015.
Prior to that, he and Jonathan remained at the top of their sport, with Alistair claiming the European title in Kitzbühel in 2014, a year in which he also won gold at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Before going under the knife, he recorded World Cup wins in Cape Town (RSA) and London, while Jonny crossed the line first in Auckland (NZL) and Gold Coast (AUS).
On making his competitive return in April 2016, Alistair expressed himself to be 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.”
Asked if he could challenge his older brother for the title at the Copacabana, Jonathan said: “I look at the way Alistair’s training at the moment and all I can say is that if I beat him, then I think it’ll be good enough for the gold.”