It was the setting as much as the story that made London’s Olympic triathlon. The swimming in the Serpentine, the cycling along The Mall; Alistair Brownlee wrapped a Union flag around himself as he finished the race in Hyde Park.
On Sunday, the Brownlee brothers will face each other again when the Vitality World Triathlon comes to London for the last time.
There are 10 events around the globe that make up the World Triathlon Series, which climaxes in Chicago. Next year the British leg will be staged in Leeds, which may boast less glamorous backdrops but which, for most of Britain’s triathletes, is rather more convenient.
Just as Manchester has become the centre of British cycling, so Leeds has become the powerhouse of triathlon. Alistair and Jonny Brownlee live in Bramhope in the city’s northern suburbs. Two of Britain’s brightest female talents, Vicky Holland and Non Stanford, also share a house in Yorkshire’s first city.
“I always say that London is our home event of the World Series,” said Holland. “But when it comes to Leeds, it will be our home event in the sense that I can actually go home to bed. The feeling is that we have done London. This is the sixth year and the logistics of it mean we are now confined to Hyde Park.
“It makes sense to showcase it somewhere else and Leeds has become a factory of champions ever since Alistair and Jonny started living there.”
Jonny has always competed in the shadow of his older brother but the shorter course on Sunday – everything is half its normal distance – might give him an advantage.
“It is very hard to beat Alistair by trying to out-suffer him,” said Jonny. “He can out-suffer everyone, out-tough us all.”
Having won two of the five stages already, Jonny, 25, is in slightly better form than his 27-year-old brother, although the overall leader is Javier Gomez, the 32-year-old Spaniard who came between the Brownlees to win Olympic silver in London. The following year, Gomez returned to London and beat Jonny in the final yards.
“It is the worst feeling in the world knowing you are going to lose and there is nothing you can do about it,” said Jonny. “Your whole body seems to shut down.”
Holland has competed with the Brownlees, winning the mixed triathlon at last summer’s Commonwealth Games. The key to the Brownlees, who on Sunday face each other for the first time this season, is that there is a certain friction in their relationship.
Holland said: “There is always sibling rivalry but with the Brownlees it is a very high-octane sibling rivalry and that is what drives them forward. How many brothers live together, work together and compete against each other? There has to be some friction there or it wouldn’t work.”
Sunday is also the first time Holland will race against the person with whom she shares a house.
“It will be the first time I’ve ever competed against Non since we started living together because we have both had times when one has been fit and the other injured,” she said.
“We are not sisters so the dynamic is slightly different. Living with another athlete is a delicate balance. You can dedicate yourself too much to sport, which in something like triathlon can be all-consuming, and deny yourself a real life – or you can go the other way, which means you end up not being competitive. I have done both.
“The fact we are all together in Leeds helps. Sometimes you want to go to the cinema or for a meal; other times you just want to sit on the sofa, cut out the small talk and just exist.”
Holland is 29 and was a serious swimmer and middle-distance runner before British Triathlon approached her to take up the sport. “My first reaction was, ‘No. I am the next Kelly Holmes’,” she said with a laugh. Only in the last 12 months has she really broken through, winning bronze and gold in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
Then came injury, an air-cast boot and crutches. There seemed little prospect of her even entering the fourth event of the World Series in Cape Town last month. She did and, although she admitted to “full-blown jelly legs” on the eve of the contest, she won.
“I have never felt so in control as I was in the 10km race but the swimming was tough. It was held in the sea off Cape Town, which I imagined would be warm. It was absolutely freezing because the currents come straight from Antarctica.” Even in the kind of spring London is enduring, the Serpentine will be more inviting than the South Atlantic.
Vicky Holland and more of the world’s fastest triathletes battle it out at the free-to-view Vitality World Triathlon London, on Sunday in Hyde Park, LondonReuse content