Britain’s Brownlee brothers turn Olympic triathlon in to family business

August 7, 2012

British triathlete Alistair Brownlee tugged a Union Jack over his shoulders as he stumbled and fell across the finish line in first place in the men’s Olympic triathlon Tuesday. Urged on by a roaring, flag-waving crowd that lined the course several bodies deep, Brownlee had rumbled to a gold-medal finish ahead of Spain’s Javier Gomez, who also collapsed after crossing the line.

The pair lay on their backs, reaching out to shake hands while still reclined, both too exhausted to get up. Until, that is, the approaching bronze medalist got to the finish, serenaded by cheers.

It was Brownlee’s brother Jonathan.

Alistair, 24, and Jonathan, 22, exchanged a fatigued embrace as the thousands of Brits who came out to Hyde Park in droves rained down their appreciation. The pair secured the first two Olympic medals in the event for Britain, running near the front throughout the 0.9-mile swim, 26.7-mile bike ride and 6.2-mile run through the park.

“My ears are actually ringing,” Alistair told a television reporter shortly after the medal ceremony, “the crowd was so loud.”

Alistair, a two-time world champion, finished in 1 hour, 46 minutes and 25 seconds, securing the victory with the best run of any competitor (29:07). Gomez finished nine seconds behind in 1:46:34, and Jonathan, the silver medalist at last year’s world championships, came home in 1:46:56.

Jonathan felt dizzy and sick shortly after the finish and was taken to the medical tent where he received fluids and was bathed in ice packs. As he and his brother made their rounds later through banks of television cameras, Jonathan paused occasionally to drink water, have his pulse checked, and sit in a chair that volunteers toted along behind him.

“I’m feeling very, very tired,” he said. “I knew it was going to be hard.”

He might have wrested the silver from Gomez had he not landed a 15-second penalty for mounting his bicycle too early in the transition zone between the swim and bike. He served the penalty by stepping off the course, and into the designated penalty box, during the third loop of the four-loop run.

When he emerged with a stumble, racing to try to catch up to his brother and Gomez, he still held the bronze-medal position. He easily outran France’s David Hauss, who got fourth in 1:47:14, and Laurent Vidal, who was fifth in 1:47:21. American Hunter Kemper, competing in his fourth Olympic Games, ended up 14th in 1:48:46. U.S. teammate Manuel Huerta got 51st in 1:53:39.

“It definitely would have been closer [without the penalty], but I don’t think I would have beat” Gomez, Jonathan said. “A bronze medal in the Olympics is great. A gold is great for the family. I’m very, very proud.”

The brothers have shared seven podiums in major international races together, including three since 2011. Natives of Yorkshire, the two live and train together at Leeds University, where Alistair is studying for a degree in finance and Jonathan in history.

“We made no secret we wanted to get both of us on the podium today,” Alistair said. “We gave it everything. It shows the strength of training together, pushing each other on all the time and the relationship that we have.”

The brothers stayed together during the swim and bike portions of the race. They emerged from the water just behind Slovakia’s Richard Varga, a strong swimmer who had been training with them in recent weeks but ended up 22nd overall.

They then took their places in a five-man lead pack early in the bike ride, the five riders hoping to put some distance between themselves and the chase group. But the winding course around the park would not allow for such tactics. The second group eventually caught up, bringing with it Britain’s Stuart Hayes, who sped to the front to give the Brownlees a rest from the burden of carrying the lead.

Hayes acknowledged that was his strategy all along.

“It went to plan,” he said. “We’ve been training as a team for the last six weeks and it finally paid off.”

The Brownlees were technically in third and fourth positions entering the run, but Alistair immediately took the lead with Gomez on his shoulder and Jonathan just behind. Jonathan began to drop off the pace on the second lap, and Gomez started to drop behind Alistair soon after, giving him a clear path to the gold.

When Jonathan stepped off to take his penalty, he stood antsily in the box. After he emerged, he peered over his shoulder to see how far away the Frenchmen behind him were. They remained several seconds back, and Jonathan caught a second wind.

Alistair, meantime, tried to enjoy the crowd’s cheers as he ran toward the finish, but found himself with dwindling energy and enthusiasm.

“I was obviously very, very proud and happy, but my overriding emotion,” he said, “was to get over the line and be over and done with it.”

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Medals
Gold Silver Bronze Total
United States 8 19 17 44
China 10 11 7 41
Russia 2 11 3 35
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