TW Interviews: Jonny Brownlee

Credit: Romilly Locyer

It can be hard being a younger sibling - you're always that one step behind, covered in bruises, blamed for every broken ornament, outraged when you're sent to bed earlier. It's even harder when that older brother has been Junior, U23 and overall World Champion in triathlon, which just happens to be the same sport at which you excel. Ask Jonny Brownlee.

Sibling rivalry

Despite his U23 and Sprint world titles the younger Brownlee still thinks he is that one step behind 22-year-old Alistair. 

"The rivalry in actual triathlon races is not that great. I think he is still better than me and that I should concentrate on others rather than him. If I beat them, it normally means that I have beaten the best in the world.

"We've always been very competitive. We play a lot of table tennis in our garden at home and we had some very serious matches. I am always better than him at ball sports."

Everyone knew the younger Brownlee was good - in 2009 he was Junior European Champion and runner-up in the Junior World Championships - but it was his performance in that remarkable ITU race in Hyde Park last August that showed how far he had come and how little he was intimidated by the rest of the field, no matter that it included 2008 ITU World Champion Javier Gomez and Beijing Olympic champ Jan Frodeno.

He finished second to Gomez (who went on to be crowned world champion for the second time, while Alistair faded alarmingly in the final 200m, finally struggling across the line in tenth place. 

Laid-back approach 

Alistair is known as a cool customer in a race and a rather low-key one away from triathlon. His brother has the same no-nonsense, modest manner.

"It was a massive shock," he says of the Hyde Park event. "It was way better than I have ever competed before. I am still shocked now. The day after I had to tell myself that it did actually happen.

"I was too tired to celebrate, to be honest. I gave it everything. It was a strange feeling because it all happened so quickly... I passed Al with about 200m to go but I was just desperate to get to the finish line. I thought he had pulled his hamstring - he was holding it as I passed him - and that he would run through to third."

Head start

Triathlon is clearly in the blood and Jonny was hooked from an early age. "I swam when I was little, then started running when I went to Bradford Grammar School. My uncle [Simon Hearnshaw] started doing triathlon when I was about 12. Alistair was very keen to give it a go. We both entered one of the Milk Series triathlons [a national series for youngsters] and after that I was hooked."

The appeal is simple: "It's the new challenge. Marathon was the big challenge for a while, and now it's triathlon. Most people are good at one of the disciplines so it encourages them to have a go."

Brotherly teamwork

Although the brothers are rivals, they have worked together in the past and form an imposing team. 

"We both have the same strengths so we complement each other when we work together," he says. "A fast swim and hard bike suits both of us, and I worked for him in the European Championships. There was a small group after the swim and I had to do some big turns on the bike to ensure it stayed away.

"I was destroyed after the bike, but he won. It is strange to work for him because triathlon doesn't have a team culture yet, but I do enjoy it. It makes me have a different approach to some races. I can feel disappointed if I sacrifice my race but it's worth it if he wins."

The Hyde Park race offered a textbook example of their teamwork. The Brownlees were shoulder to shoulder from the moment they exited the water after the swim until Alistair tried to catch Gomez on that final break, and fell apart.

World titles

Within a month of Hyde Park Jonny had his two world titles. Now he has another title in his sights. "Having the 2012 Olympics in Britain is absolutely massive. It's a great opportunity for all the British triathletes. We can use home advantage to improve our chances of winning a medal. And we can, hopefully, use the Olympics to showcase our sport."

Brownlee feels a buzz just watching the Games. "I love the Olympics. I watched pretty much every second of Beijing. I started to like sports that I have never been interested in before, like badminton."  

But can he beat his brother in the one that matters, the race that would write a British winner into the record books? 

"If he stops improving as quickly as he is, then I hope so. But to beat him I have to be the best in the world."