There’s nothing quite like a big brother to bring you back down to earth with a resounding thud.
If you wanted to see the drive and determination needed to make an Olympic champion you didn’t have to watch yesterday’s thrilling men’s world triathlon final, you just needed to hang around behind the scenes to see if champions really do treat those impostors triumph and disaster both the same.
While others congratulated Jonathan Brownlee on his brave race, following an agonising defeat in a sprint finish to Spain’s Javier Gomez, his brother Alistair was ready to throw a consoling arm around his shoulder and give him a piece of his mind.
This is a sibling rivalry – and rock-solid friendship and training partnership – built on hard work and honesty. After all they’re from Yorkshire, where plain spoken is the native tongue.
“He’s thrown a world title away for being a complete tactical numpty,” said Olympic champion Alistair, who saw his own ambitions fade after the ankle injury he has nursed all season left him unable to compete for the title, he doggedly crossed the line in a distant 52nd place.
“I saw him make his move with 250m to go and I thought, ‘What an idiot’. I’d told him to use his head. If he’d come into the last 100 metres behind Gomez he would have won and he didn’t do it.”
After wins in Stockholm, Kitzbühel and San Diego and a second place in his only other start in Hamburg, Alistair has been nothing but consistent in 2013, despite his problems.
But Sunday’s 40km bike leg clearly took too much out of him and, while he tried in vain to battle the pain, he quickly faded on the run – meaning he also dropped off the podium in the overall world title standings.
That left his brother and Gomez, second and third in the overall rankings, slugging it out for the race and the title – a head-to-head that was decided only in the final metres, the Spaniard battling ahead to claim his third world crown after victories in 2008 and 2010.
“I’m gutted and it’s tough to take, especially with the race here in London,” admitted Jonathan, who also finished one place behind Gomez when he took bronze at last year’s Olympics.
“It’s hard losing by that much because you just ask yourself what you could have done differently.
“Second in the world is not too bad but I wanted to win. Perhaps I should have let him make the move on the sprint but I’ve won sprints like that before, so I don’t really know what I could have done.”
Alistair’s post-race comments – admittedly delivered with the big brotherly grin – certainly didn’t surprise or annoy his sibling, who says he remains in awe of his greatest friend, rival and critic.
“All season he’s only done about five weeks’ training and he’s only won the races he has because he is so good,” Jonathan added.
“He’s done an eighth of the training of all his rivals and anyone else wouldn’t have started this race. I wouldn’t have done.
“He only started because of his memories of doing so well last year. I know he would have expected me to win a sprint finish like that but I tried my best.”
So, for only the second time in five years, a Brownlee is not top of the triathlon world.
It’s something they are sure to reflect on as they prepare to climb Kilimanjaro to the summit of Africa next month – a “fun” break from training that underlines these are athletes with an extraordinary relationship that is anything but normal.
There was better news for Britain on Saturday when Non Stanford was crowned women’s world champion.
The 24-year-old had to serve a 15-second penalty on the 10 kilometre run but was never troubled, while fourth place for Jodie Stimpson was enough to give her second in the overall standings.Reuse content