Last summer the Brownlee brothers became a household name, pretty much over night. At the London 2012 Olympics Alistair, 24 at the time, won gold in the triathlon and Jonny, 22 at the time, the bronze, making them the first British brothers to stand on an Olympic podium together for more than 100 years. Has the success and the fame sunk in yet?
Alistair, you started competing in triathlons first. How old were you and where did the triathlon idea come from?
I think the first time I competed in a triathlon I was about ten years old. I’m never really sure where the exact idea came from, my Uncle Simon often gets the credit but I was already doing a lot of swimming after my Mother introduced me to it at a young age. I also really enjoyed running so, when I got the opportunity to do a Triathlon, I jumped at the chance.
Jonny, is it true that you started competing in triathlons because Alistair did?
Yes, there are lots of things like that as a younger brother! If Alistair was going to the pool to swim, then I would have to go and watch anyway as I couldn’t be left at home alone, so I thought I might as well swim. Then everything else followed.
Were there any other sports on the horizon for you as kids?
J: I played lots of other sports when I was younger, and was fairly good at rugby, cricket and football. I played for the school team in all three of them, however triathlon took over in my senior years at school.
A: I gave everything a go at school, and I would encourage anybody else to do the same, but I was never very successful at ball sports.
Do you think there’s one element from your upbringing that your success can be attributed to?
A: I think school had a huge impact. Being able to go to a school where sport was so heavily supported, and having the freedom to train on lunch times was invaluable.
J: Yes, school and where we brought up. North Leeds is a wonderful place to train and being so close to the Yorkshire Dales probably fuelled our love of the outdoors.
Triathlon is often described as the most grueling of sporting tests. What toll does it take on you physically?
A: You don’t really see it like that when you’re actually doing it. Our way into the sport was very natural, and that element of being able to push yourself harder and harder has grown as we have developed. A lot of our training is actually very enjoyable and doesn’t seem that taxing now.
What’s an average day like? Do you still live together?
J: We lived together until the Olympics, and then afterwards I bought my own house up the road. But we still live very close to each other. Monday to Friday we swim, cycle and run every day, and on some days we run twice.
A: Then at the weekends we don’t swim, we will just run and cycle, but for longer distances.
Much has been made of the sibling rivalry between you both. Are you encouraging or competitive training partners?
A: I think it’s fair to say that we’re a bit of both. When the weather is awful outside and you have a bike ride to do, it’s very encouraging knowing that Jonny will be going out as well and that helps to motivate me.
J: Yes, and sometimes we are very competitive in the harder sessions, but this is less common the older we become. We train together for 30 hours a week. If we raced all the time, we’d end up killing each other!
When you compete together you make triathlon look like a team sport. How important is it to have a close training partner?
J: We both know how lucky we are really. Not many World Champions can train with the Olympic Champion from the same sport and vice versa.
A: It is a massive benefit. I can’t ever get complacent, as Jonny is always right behind me.
Alistair, you’ve got a reputation as being quite a harsh competitor, with one commentator describing your style as ‘pure evil’. Do you laugh this criticism off, or do you take it seriously?
I think you have to just laugh at that, and I’m sure he wasn’t talking about me personally, just the way I race… At least I hope he was!
It’s all very well being competitive brothers when it comes to sport. Does the competitiveness spill over into other areas of your lives?
A: I’d say the competitiveness is more prominent in other parts of our lives. We are brothers at the end of the day, so Monopoly, table tennis, even whose house is the tidiest becomes a competition!
J: Yes, neither of us like to lose at anything. There have definitely been golf clubs flying on the crazy golf course before.
You were both quoted several times in post Olympic interviews as saying your successes weren’t sinking in. Have they sunk in now? And how does it feel looking back to London 2012?
J: I think it probably has sunk in now. I don’t think you can truly appreciate what you have achieved until you retire from sport. At the minute I’m always thinking about the next race, the next World Champs, the Commonwealth Games and ultimately trying to win a medal in Rio.
A: I think it has sunk in for me now too. I can understand what we did achieve and reflecting on it, it does make me feel very proud. Similar to Jonny though, I am really just looking forward now, and there are plenty of new, tougher challenges on the horizon.
Following your Olympic success, most of the whole country now knows who you both are. How has the affected your everyday lives?
A: Immediately after the games we were incredibly busy, and it didn’t seem like there was going to be an end to it. Now we are back to some sort of normality. We get stopped every now and again but it is mainly people shouting out of car windows when we are running or cycling.
J: Yeah, there were times after the games where we would walk on opposite sides of the street talking to each other on our phones because we realised people only seemed to recognise us when we were together! It has calmed down a lot now though, and it’s nice to get recognised sometimes.
What makes a good triathlete?
A: Without writing a book (although we have one coming out in June), it’s just consistency and hard work!
What impact do you think your joint successes will have on the future of triathlon?
Triathlon is getting stronger as a sport all the time. It’s pretty new, so there are going to be advances. Me, Jonny and Javier Gomez of Spain are certainly at the forefront of that at the minute, but I’m sure it won’t be long until someone else comes along and gives us a hard time.
What one piece of advice would you give to anyone reading this interview and thinking ‘Hmmm, triathlon. I might give that a go…’
A: Give it a go! Once you’ve had a go at one, you’ll realise it isn’t that difficult. There are lots of shorter distance triathlons now. Having the three disciplines makes it easier as well. You can vary your training, and break up the race too.
What does the post-tri future hold for the Brownlee borthers?
J: I would actually like to teach. I really enjoyed my experience as a pupil at Bradford Grammar, so going back to be a Games Teacher would be great.
A: The good thing for both of us I suppose, is that because we got a good education, we will have a choice. I enjoy the atmosphere in professional sport, so I think I would still like to do something around that. I’ve hopefully got plenty of time to think about it though!
When you’re not training, competing or travelling, how do you relax? Do you go for a pint together?
J: I like to stay in normally and play on the X-Box or watch a film. We go out and eat together quite a lot. We spend a lot of time eating!
A: Yeah I enjoy going to the pub sometimes, or the cinema. But when we are training hard, there isn’t a great deal of time to do too much.
If someone were able to get a triathlon underway in Morzine / Avoriaz / Les Gets, would you come over and show us how it’s done?
J: Why not! It’s a beautiful place. I’ve been skiing there a few times before and really enjoyed it.
A: Yeah I really enjoy the Alps. I’d like to have a go at cross-country skiing as well, so maybe substitute the run for that and we’ll come!