It's brilliant Brownlee brothers against the rest of the world
British triathletes confident of beating a field which is uniting to thwart them
It is a tale worthy of a John Buchan novel; two fresh-faced young Britons travel to London from their Yorkshire village ready to raise the Union flag over Hyde Park, but once there are faced with a conspiracy by the rest of the world to thwart them. Can they triumph against the odds?
Except it is not really against the odds and Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee, respectively last year's world championship series gold and silver medallists, appear utterly unmoved by other countries ganging up to try to block their road to victory in today's triathlon. They are, though, fresh faced.
Alistair, the older by two years and one week, is favourite to win Britain's first triathlon gold medal this afternoon, while Jonny, after a succession of authoritative performances, is favoured to follow his brother on to the podium.
They will be escorted around at least half the course – a 1500m swim in the Serpentine, 43km cycle ride and a 10km run – by Stuart Hayes, the third Briton in the race who will perform the role of domestique, setting up the brothers for an assault on the medals. The Brownlees will also help each other around the course but come the home straight it is every brother for himself.
The race begins before the start line in a series of back-room wheels and deals, a complicated web of inter-nation alliances not seen in Europe since the lead-up to the First World War. We are back in Buchan territory.
"It is a race," said Alistair. "Other countries have been talking to each other – that says it all. They have had to talk to each other to try and find a way to beat us. That's fantastic. They are worrying about us and that says everything to me."
Some suggest the Brownlees have struck a support deal with Richard Varga, the Slovakian who is one of the strongest swimmers in the field. The Australians (it had to be them) are negotiating with others to stop the Brownlees. "The whole international community [is discussing] how to beat the Brownlees," said Shaun Stephens, Australia's head coach. "We've already seen it in the last couple of races that there are some teams willing to shut them down."
The reason the rest of the world are so concerned with the brothers is encapsulated in their last outing, at the world series event in Kitzbühel, one of the circuit's signature triathlons. It was Alistair's first serious race since tearing an Achilles in January – an injury he feared might put him out of the Games – and he won at a canter, with Jonny second. "These guys are above the rest," said Hayes.
It was the perfect fillip for Alistair after a fraught race to get to London. "There were times when I didn't know I'd run, or whether it would snap again," said Alistair. "I probably knew things were turning round a couple of weeks before Kitzbühel. I started to feel a bit better – Kitzbühel was a surprise. I didn't expect it to go that well."
His recovery was aided by installing a small pool in the front garden of the home he shares with Jonny in a village north of Leeds. He dug a hole for the pool and was soon aqua jogging for an hour at a stretch. It was not a move that impressed all his neighbours.
One morning Malcolm Brown, Britain's coach, arrived to find a man from the local council leaving. "He was shaking his head," said Brown, but between him and Brownlee they managed to convince the official it did meet planning regulations. Another victory that would have stirred Buchan's heart, and one that might just have helped secure another British gold.
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