People of Yorkshire volume 6 – The Brownlee Brothers

Jonathan and Alistair Brownlee are the Yorkshire triathlon champions who have risen to fame due to their success in the sport. At the 2012 Olympic Games they became the first brothers to be on the same podium in 100 years.
Triathlon is an event made up of three disciplines, swimming, cycling and running and has become an integral part of the athletics programme at major world multi-game championships, such as the Olympic and Commonwealth games, along with events within the sport itself.

The two brothers were born two years apart, Alistair, the eldest in 1988 and Jonathan two years later. They both grew up in the village of Bramhope in North Leeds and enjoyed a friendly but competitive rivalry during their childhood.
Alistair was introduced to triathlon by his uncle, and started to attend local swimming galas along with competeing in cross country runs for his school. This led him to compete at Junior level in which he won several Yorkshire titles in this sport. Famously, the enthusiastic eldest brother would wake his father at 6.30am to run around a circuit in woodlands near his home.

Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee on the triathlon trail together. Picture credit: zonnyzoozoodoo flickr creative commons
Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee on the triathlon trail together. Picture credit: zonnyzoozoodoo flickr creative commons

Younger brother Jonathan was a member of the Airebrough swimming club where he set a record in the backstroke discipline, which still stands today. Like his brother, Jonathan attended Bradford Grammar School and then the University of Leeds, closely following in Alistair’s footsteps and eventually becoming his training partner.

Aged fourteen, Alistair started competing for Great Britain Juniors in the European Junior Championships and then in 2006 won the event, a moment in which he decided to take up the sport professionally. Not to be outdone, Jonathan also won this event in 2009.

Alistair competed at his first Olympic triathlon in Beijing 2008, managing to finish 12th and the first out of all the British athletes. In this year he also won the Under-23 championship and took the bronze at that year’s triathlon world cup.
Meanwhile, brother Jonathan was emerging through the youth ranks, competing well at the European and World Juniors finishing with a bronze medal in both. He also started the new decade by winning the inaugural sprint distance triathlon held in Lausanne, Switzerland, which involves a continuous a 750m swim, 20km cycle and 5km run. The following year he retained this title and beat his brother, who finished third. In the 42 triathlons he entered between July 2010 and May 2014 Jonathan Brownlee made it onto the podium in every one, which is an astonishing record.

Alistair Brownlee Picture credit Ploeschk wikipedia cc
Alistair Brownlee Picture credit Ploeschk wikipedia cc

By 2012 with both brothers now professional and at the top of their sport it was time to compete against each other in the full glare of a home Olympics. The course, which was around Hyde Park and near Buckingham Palace on Tuesday 7th August, contained almost a one mile swim, twenty-seven mile cycle and 6.2 mile run around the famous old royal lands. The race had fifty-five competitors and started on the banks of the Serpentine lake.

The competition was full of high drama as Jonathan Brownlee, competing at his first games, had to endure a fifteen-second penalty for an error with his foot crossing the line during transition to the cycling leg of the race.

He recovered enough to claim bronze medal, but could not catch is brother who took gold. The effort endured by him to make the time up caused the athlete to suffer from exhaustion after the race. By making it onto the podium with Alistair meant they became the first brothers to do so in one hundred years of Olympic history.

The brothers have continued to compete  against each other and have become the dominate force in the sport of triathlon. A demonstration of this came at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow when they both destroyed the field culminating in Alistair waiting for his younger brother to nearly catch up before stepping across the line to take gold. The brothers also won the team event at these games along with Vicki Holland and Jodie Stimpson.

Jonathan Brownlee Picture credit: ploeschk wikipedia creative commons
Jonathan Brownlee Picture credit: ploeschk wikipedia creative commons

The success that these two Yorkshire brothers have enjoyed and their exposure in two major races on British soil has provided inspiration to a whole new generation. Their legacy in Leeds and beyond continues to grow. In 2013 they staged Yorkshire’s first triathlon at Fountains Abbey. The following year this expanded to two Brownlee tri events at Petworth House in Sussex (Tri South) and at Harewood House in Leeds (Tri North.) These races, an adult version and a children’s “duoathlon” aimed to inspire young people to take up the sport and for many of the competitors this was the first triathlon they had ever taken part in.
The Brownlee foundation, which was set up in 2014 and aims to promote a healthy lifestyle to children staged one of its first “minitris” at the John Charles Stadium in South Leeds in October of  that year.
Their achievements have also been commemorated in Bramhope with a triathlon statue standing in their home village. In nearby Horsforth, The Grey Horse Pub changed its name to The Brownlee Arms in honour of them.

Leeds was chosen as the host city for British leg of the World Triathlon Series, which took place in June 2016.  The brothers were on familiar territory as they swam through the lake at Roundhay Park and ran through the city’s streets. Cheered on by their home crowd it was Alistair who crossed the finish line first in front of this brother, who took silver. Australian triathlete, Aaron Royle completed the podium, finishing in third place.

The Brownlee brothers’ dominance in triathlon continued at the 2016 Rio Games. With a start line on the sun-soaked Copacabana Beach, the brothers must have felt a very long way away from a drizzly Roundhay Park, yet they still managed to beat the rest of the field once again. Alistair won the gold with a time of 1.45:01, while six seconds later, Jonny joined his brother across the finish line as they celebrated together on the ground. Their success was not only great personal glory but also added to Team GB’s impressive haul of 67 medals at the 31st Olympiad.


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