Triathlon: Brownlee brothers enjoy triathlon triumph
Remarkable Brownlee brothers dominate dramatic race, with Alistair taking gold and Jonny bronze
Wednesday 08 August 2012
There was only one moment when Alistair Brownlee did not appear in absolute control of proceedings. It came as he lay sprawled on the bright blue surface that paves the final 100m of the triathlon, gasping for breath and cast a glance back down the home straight. Gold was already his but he wanted more.
Even then he had confidence in what he would see and sure enough a familiar figure emerged down the track, his brother Jonny.
They were separated only by the Spaniard Javier Gomez. Jonny crossed the line and stumbled into his elder brother's arms; gold and bronze for the Brownlees, for Yorkshire and for Great Britain and probably in that order.
If for Alistair it had been a performance of utter command to justify his favourite's tag, for Jonny, two years younger, it was a more trying day in Hyde Park. The eager younger Brownlee was handed a 15-second penalty for leaping too soon – by a matter of inches – on to his bike in the first transition after the swim. It put his medal chances at grave risk.
"I didn't realise I'd done anything wrong," said Jonny. "I heard the number 31 and I thought Alistair's got a penalty, what an idiot. Then I looked down at my arm and realised I was 31. Those 15 seconds lasted a long, long time. I was thinking about how far 15 seconds is as I was running. Maybe 90 metres. I tripped when I came out of it and thought things couldn't really get much worse."
They did and they didn't. He had to take the penalty during the run and by then there was enough of a gap to ensure two Frenchmen, David Hauss and Laurent Vidal, would not catch him, but by the time he crossed the line the 22-year-old was exhausted.
As he was lining up behind the grandstand for the medal ceremony fatigue overwhelmed him. First he crouched down beside a sign that said "Bronze medallist". Then he sat. Then he lay flat. Within minutes he was surrounded by doctors (although throughout it all Alistair appeared unconcerned – as if he was used to his younger brother seeking to upstage him). They swaddled him in cold towels and tucked bags of ice under his arms. "I collapsed," said Jonny matter of factly. "It's part of the sport, it's a tough, tough sport."
Behind the simple facade of a 1500m swim, a 43km cycle and 10km run, triathlon at this elite level is a race of layered intricacies. The three Britons – Stuart Hayes, who finished 37th, performed an admirable service as a domestique – worked as a unit and Team Brownlee had an international element to it too. The Slovakian Richard Varga spent the last two weeks training alongside the Brownlees at their home in Yorkshire.
Varga is a strong swimmer and led the 55-strong field out. It took him 16.56 minutes to complete the loop around the Serpentine and he took with him four others, the Brownlees, Gomez and Alessandro Fabian of Italy. "We swam hard and I couldn't believe it when we came out, it was ideal that there were five of us, working really smoothly together," said Alistair.
It was then that Jonny received his penalty and with Hayes dropping behind the leading group, all was not going to plan. But Hayes drove hard and caught up, bringing a group of 15 riders with him and the three Britons settled in at the head of the field. The noise of the crowd made it impossible to discuss tactics – and how to deal with the penalty, the first Jonny has received in his career – apart from in the handful of seconds of each lap in which they crossed the bridge over the Serpentine. It was enough to agree a plan; push and push hard, try and break the group.
Within a couple of hundred metres of the final transition, the two Britons and the dogged Gomez were clear. Without the penalty the medals would have already appeared settled but Alistair was determined not only to plot his path to gold but also to ensure his brother would be there with him.
"I was debating with myself what tactics to do to give him the best chance," said Alistair. "I decided to go out as hard as I can and hope he could stay with me and then that would give him the best chance, but Javier came too."
Quickly the lead group's advantage over the field grew beyond 20 seconds but it was not until the penultimate lap that Jonny chose to go into the penalty pen. His coaches had wanted him to do it on the first but he decided against it. It proved the correct choice.
"On the last lap Jonny said: 'Let's just go for it, run like the wind'," recalled Alistair and he did. Brownlee completed the 10km in 29.07min, a time that is only a second slower than Chris Thompson, Britain's no 2 in the 10,000m, posted in the heats in the Olympic Stadium.
There never seemed any doubt the elder Brownlee would break Gomez and the gap that first opened on the third lap widened steadily. Come the finish, which Brownlee crossed wrapped in a Union flag and at walking pace as he began to celebrate – "I was losing it by then," he said, the gap was 11 seconds. Jonny finished 20 seconds behind Gomez. He insisted the penalty had not cost him silver and it did not prevent them becoming the first British brothers to share a podium in an individual event for 112 years.
There were some anxious moments as Jonny was treated – his parents, both doctors, joined the team medical staff in a small tent behind the finish where their son was attended to. But he recovered sufficiently to retake his place in the medal ceremony behind, as ever, his big brother.
Watched by their parents and several thousand spectators on either side of the Serpentine – on the far bank they edged as close to the water as possible – they applauded each other on to the podium.
Once proceedings were done they were finally able to rid themselves of the admirably troublesome Gomez. The Spaniard stepped aside and together the Brownlees stood alone on the podium, brother's arms around brother's shoulders.
Almost as they had planned it.
Super siblings: Who are the Brownlees?
Alistair Brownlee, aged 24
Born in Leeds, the talented crosscountry runner was introduced to triathlon by his uncle while still in his teens. Offered a place to study medicine at Cambridge, but dropped out after a term to concentrate on triathlon and soon became World Champion twice.
Jonathan Brownlee, 22
Also from west Yorkshire, he followed his older brother into competing in the triathlon and won the European junior title in 2006. Claimed his first victory in the World Series in May. Currently studying history at the University of Leeds.
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