The Brownlee Brothers – Life, Career & Where They are Now

Jonathan and Alistair Brownlee are famous Yorkshire brothers. They’re the Yorkshire triathlon champions who have risen to fame thanks 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 which are swimming, cycling, and running. It’s 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.

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Growing Up

The Brownlee brothers were born two years apart. Alistair Brownlee is the eldest and was born in 1988, Jonathan Brownlee, the youngest of the two, was born in 1990. They grew up in the village of Bramhope in North Leeds and enjoyed a friendly but competitive rivalry during their childhood.

Alistair was introduced to the triathlon sport by his uncle. He started to attend local swimming galas along with competing in cross country runs for his school.

This led Alistair to compete at Junior level in which he won several Yorkshire titles in the triathlon sport. Famously, the enthusiastic eldest brother would wake up his father at 6:30am to run around a circuit in woodlands near his home.

The younger brother Jonathan became a member of the Aireborough Swimming Club. It was here that 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. Jonathan closely followed Alistair’s footsteps and eventually became his training partner.


The Beginning for Alistair Brownlee

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

At the age of 14, Alistair started to compete for Great Britain Juniors in the European Junior Championships. In 2006, he won the event which proved to be the 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. He managed to finish 12th and was the first out of all the British athletes. During this year, he also won the under-23 championship and took the bronze at that year’s triathlon world cup.

The Beginning for Jonathan Brownlee

Jonathan was emerging through the youth ranks. He was competing well at the European and World Juniors finishing with a bronze medal in both. Jonathan also started the new decade by winning the inaugural sprint distance triathlon held in Lausanne, Switzerland. This involves a continuous 750m swim, 20km cycle, and 5km run.

The following year, Jonathan 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

Competing in the Olympics

By 2012, both Brownlee brothers were now professional sportsmen. They were at the top of their game and would go on to compete against each other in the full glare of a home Olympics.

The course was around Hyde Park and near Buckingham Palace on Tuesday the 7th of August. It contained almost a one mile swim, 27 mile cycle, and a 6.2 mile run around the famous old royal lands. The race had 55 competitors and started on the banks of the Serpentine lake.

This triathlon competition was full of high drama. Jonathan Brownlee, competing at his first games, had to endure a 15 second penalty for an error with his foot crossing the line during transition to the cycling leg of the race.

Despite this, Jonathan recovered enough to claim the bronze medal however he couldn’t catch up to his brother Alistair who took gold. The effort endured by Jonathan to make up the time caused the athlete to suffer from exhaustion after the race.

The Brownlee brothers made history. By making it onto the podium, they became the first brothers to do so in 100 years of Olympic history.

2014 Commonwealth Games

The brothers continued to compete against each other. As a result, they have become a dominant force in the sport of triathlon.

A demonstration of this came at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow when they both destroyed the field. Alistair famously waited 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. They competed with Vicki Holland and Jodie Stimpson.

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

The Legacy of the Brownlee Brothers

The Yorkshire brothers have both enjoyed success and their exposure in two major races on British soil has proved to be an inspiration to a whole new generation. Their legacy in Leeds and beyond continues to grow.

In 2013, the Brownlee brothers staged Yorkshire’s first triathlon at Fountains Abbey. The following year, this expanded to two Brownlee triathlon events at Petworth House in Sussex (Tri South), and at Harewood House in Leeds (Tri North).

Within these races there was an adult version and a children’s version called “duathlon”. The latter was 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

The Brownlee Foundation was set up in 2014 and was created to promote a healthy lifestyle to children. One of its first “minitris” was held at the John Charles Stadium in South Leeds in October of that year.

Commemorated Achievements

Their achievements have also been commemorated. One of these can be seen 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.

World Triathlon Series

Leeds was chosen as the host city for the British leg of the World Triathlon Series which took place in June 2016. The brothers were competing 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, the younger brother Jonathan won gold when he crossed the finish line before his brother Alistair who won silver. Australian triathlete, Aaron Royal completed the podium finishing in third place.

2016 Rio Games

The Brownlee brother’s 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; however they still managed to beat the rest of the field once again.

Alistair won gold with a time of 1.45:01, while six seconds later Jonathan 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.

Where are the Brownlee Brothers Now?

The Brownlee Brothers show no sign of stopping. Alistair has since made his long course debut. This was in April 2017 at the half-iron distance challenge Mogan-Gran Canaria Triathlon. Alistair won 8 minutes ahead of the 2nd runner up. A month later, he also won the North American Ironman Championships.

At the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Jonathan took the second leg of the inaugural triathlon mixed relay and won Gold. He also finished 3rd in the 2021 Super League Triathlon Championship Series. 

In 2022, Jonathan was appointed MBE in the New Years Honours for services to triathlon.