The Brownlees Olympic Journey: 2009
The London 2012 Olympic Triathlon is just around the corner, we look back at our first interview with the Brownlees.
The Brownlees don't stop being competitive outside of races
In 2009 the Brownlees were considered Britain’s most promising athletes. With triathlon in their genes and a strong sibling rivalry, the brothers were provided with a recipe for success and we visited them at home for an exclusive sit down.
At first glance, the pair didn’t really look like top class athletes. With their slender shoulders, boyish features and lightweight physiques, they looked more like the sort of junior club runners you’d find ambling their way round a muddy cross-country course on a wet winter afternoon.
But don’t let first impressions fool you. In Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee, Britain already had two of the world’s most talented young triathletes with a string of junior world and European medals between them and the promise of plenty more to come in the years ahead. Even then it was feasible that by the time London 2012 rolled around they could make up two thirds of Britain’s male Olympic triathlon team.
Turning to tri
The brothers face off in a favourite running landscape
The Brownlee brothers’ triathlon story has been a long time in the making – so long in fact, that Alistair struggled to remember the exact details of how and why he first turned to tri. “We both went to the local swimming club when we were younger and swam, and we went to the local running club and ran at school,” he said. “We had an uncle who did triathlons and then I think my dad found an ad for one in the paper and we decided to do it. I’m sure I had been badgering dad to find one”.
Born and raised in Leeds by parents who are both doctors, Alistair and Jonny were always on the go as kids. They started running competitively at a young age, showing promise on the field and in the pool. Triathlon was a logical progression for the sport-hungry brothers. “I suppose triathlon is quite an odd sport for a child to take up, “Alistair said. “We’d been swimming and running and did loads of other stuff- a bit of fell running and cross country and track stuff, so we just thought it was another thing to do”.
As they grew up, success was never far away. Not surprisingly, it was older brother Alistair who made his mark first, signalling his immense potential with a fantastic junior season in 2006. Wins in national duathlon and cross-country championships were followed by a European Junior title, a silver at the World Junior Duathlon championships and, most impressively, the ITU World Junior Triathlon crown. Suddenly he was being ranked as one of the worlds most promising young triathletes. It seemed almost inevitable that he would go on to great things.
A young Alistair Brownlee took the under-23 world champs in 2008 (Photo: Triathlon.org | Delly Carr)
Alistair of course has already had on amazing Olympic experience. 2008 was to prove his breakthrough year, as he developed from junior champion to surprise Olympic medal contender in he space of six memorable months. He’d already been identified as one of a handful of British triathletes capable of qualifying for the Olympics, but at the start of the season he was very much seen as an outsider. After injury hampered his early season form, Alistair was given one more chance to qualify, at the ITU World Cup race in Madrid in May. To the astonishment of many observers he finished third. As the highest placed Brit in the field, he secured a surprise Olympic berth.
“To be honest it was a shot in the dark at the qualifying race. I didn’t really have a clue how fit I was or how the race was going to pan out. I just had to go out and give it everything I had,” he said.
Following his heroics in Madrid, Alistair warmed up for Beijing with a World U23 championship win in Vancouver, making him an outside bet for a medal in China.
In the summer of 2008 he was the toast of the world triathlon community after putting in a near-miraculous performance in China, stunning one of the most talented elite triathlon fields ever assembled. First, he emerged from the waters of the Ming Tombs reservoir in a creditable seventh place, before making up a couple of places in the first transition. He moved to the front during a strong bike leg, emerging from T2 as the overall leader. Amazingly he led the run until the 7k mark, before being overtaken by more experienced athletes in the final stages. In the end, he finished 12th – the highest placed British athlete. Given he was ranked number 84 in the world leading up to Beijing, it was an astonishing effort, despite his relative lack of experience, he pushed the likes of Bevan Docherty, Simon Whitfield and Jan Frodeno all the way. Sadly there was no happy ending but it was still a tremendous result for a 20-year old in his first Olympics.
“Immediately after the Olympic race I was really disappointed,” Alistair said. “I’d come so close- why couldn’t I have just hung on? Maybe if I’d raced differently I would have been up there at the end. Then it sunk in a bit and I realised that to be up there, racing the best in the world and finishing 12th…it’s a massive achievement”
Meanwhile, Jonny was beginning to have some success of his own. National titles in 2007 and 2008 were followed by bronze medal winning performances in the Eurpean and World Junior Championships. More decent finishes followed- including a creditable 13th at the same World U-23 championships Alistair won.
Clearly, the Brownlee boys were something very special.
Big things to come
Jonny has shown himself to be a fantastic athlete in his own right
Alistair’s Beijing performance and the rapid improvement of Jonny had inevitably led to predictions of big things to come for London 2012. Both Alistair and Jonny were quick to play down expectations.
“I don’t feel the pressure from 2012,” Alistair said. “There’s massive competition in Britain, so even getting in that top three again is going to be really hard. I take it a bit at a time, almost a month at a time. I probably couldn’t tell you what I’ll be doing in a months time, let alone three years time. At the moment I’m just thinking what I can do to have as good a year as possible and then what I can do to improve over winter. Hopefully it will just be steps up and it’ll all fall into place.”
Jonny was equally grounded; “I’m still pretty young so I have to wait a few years and see where I am. I hope to make a career out of triathlon. I’d love to but this is serious stuff.” Time would tell if the Brownlees would win world and Olympic medals, but both had a strong will to succeed.
“Alistairs really, really determined” Jonny said, “much more than me. And he’s pretty selfish aswell, in a good way- a lot of athletes are like that. But I’m pretty strong minded too. When I think about something that I really want to do it. I don’t back out of it.”
With attitudes like these, we had no doubt the Brownlee brothers’ would progress to the very top of the triathlon tree. A gold-silver double at London 2012 would be perfect…
Triradar.com is the online home of Triathlon Plus. Save time and money by having every issue delivered to your door or digital device by subscribing to the print edition or buying digitally through Zinio or Apple Newsstand.
Visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/TriathlonPlus and follow us on Twitter @TriathlonPlus.
on Thursday, July 26th, 2012 at 4:52 pm under Triathlon News.
You can subscribe to comments.
Comments are closed.
Tags: Alistair Brownlee, Brownlees, Jonny Brownlee, London 2012 Olympic Games, Triathlon Interviews, Triathlon Plus Magazine