It would not be difficult to make a compelling case that Alistair Brownlee is the best triathlete of all time. He has won everything worth winning in draft-legal triathlon, from the Olympics and ITU World Championships, to the Commonwealth Games, European Championships, and Yorkshire fellrunning championships (seven times).
As luck would have it, younger brother Jonny Brownlee has pieced together a career that would make him the best triathlete in most countries, but not in his own family. That being said, his early success this season when Alistair was out with an injury showed that Jonny is closing the gap and picking the top Brownlee may soon be a coin flip.
Unquestionably the highlight of their careers so far is their Gold-Bronze performance on home soil at the London Olympics in 2012, which was the first time brothers stood on the podium in an individual sport since 1908. In Rio next year they will be looking to go one better and you’d have to be crazy to bet against them.
Our friends at Huub were gracious enough to set up this e-terview.
James: Thanks a lot for doing this Alistair!
Alistair: No problem.
James: It’s such an honor to have the Alistair Browlee joining me in this Word document for an e-terview. It’s too bad Jonny couldn’t make it as well… Oops, sorry Jonny! I didn’t see you there in Alistair’s shadow…
Jonny: No worries, I’m used to that.
James: Ok, so you’re both here. Let’s get started:
In pretty much every race you guys do the announcer will say something like “the Brownlee boys cut their teeth in the Yorkshire moors” or “this weather won’t bother the Brownlees who train in the Yorkshire rains” or “the hills of Yorkshire have prepared the Brownlees well for this challenging bike course”.
I’ve never been to Yorkshire but it sounds a complete shithole.
Alistair: Perhaps you should visit then.
Jonny: It’s a beautiful place, we call it god’s county.
James: So how much of your success do you chalk up to growing up where you did? If you were from somewhere nice (like Nice) do you think your genetics would be negated somehow?
Alistair: A lot; some talented lads meeting some talented coaches in an environment that inspired us to explore and circumstances that enabled it all to gel together. I don’t know if would have happened elsewhere, there are a lot of factors that have been a part of our success.
Jonny: Yorkshire has such a strong sporting culture and we were encouraged to be active from an early age by our parents. Leeds getting an ITU World Series race in Leeds in 2016 is a big thing, especially the year after the Grand Depart.
James: Before this interview, I set up a 10-question survey that you guys filled out on-line. In the survey you both agreed that Jonny is the better swimmer and Alistair is the better cyclist and runner. Jonny, this puts you in the same boat as every other ITU triathlete. The question is: how do you beat someone who is a faster runner than you are when they always come out of T2 with or ahead of you?
Jonny: I’m still getting quicker and getting closer to Alistair. Around Gold Coast/Auckland, I think he would have struggled to beat me.
James: Is this part of the reason why you’re going grey at such an early age?
Jonny: Nah, that’s down to stress….having to wait for Alistair. And having to answer terrible interview questions.
James:Wow, I’ll chalk that up as the first time I’ve been insulted by the brother of an Olympic champion! Which brings to mind: every young man dreams of winning an Olympic gold medal. The allure is glory, fame, wealth, living in the annals of history, patriotism, etc. But at the end of the day it all boils down to one thing: impressing girls. How much has the gold medal helped your “game”?
Alistair: I did alright beforehand.
James: Don’t hold out on me Alistair! I don’t want to raise my kids in a world where Olympic champions actually have to do anything to impress women.
Jonny: It’s the only reason he has got any chance with girls.
Alistair: It can obviously impress some girls, but I like to think that my looks and good conversation are what they are into.
James: Yeah, well, I’d like to think I am a real journalist, but The Real Starky keeps me in line. This actually brings up a sociological experiment that I’ve been thinking about for a long time. You two have a lot in common: parents, upbringing, education, profession, wealth, etc. But there are a few important differences: Alistair has an Olympic gold medal and Jonathan has an Olympic bronze medal and he’s good looking. The question is, are Jonny’s good looks enough to overcome the bronze-medal deficit?
Jonny: Yes, of course they are.
James: I can’t even imagine how Jan Frodeno deals with it all. He’s got the gold and he’s even better looking than Gomez, and don’t get me started on that that mysterious accent. Damn!
Jonny: Sounds like you need to ask him.
James: In the survey I asked you guys this exact question: “Who’s the best looking lady on the ITU circuit? (Don’t worry, this is 100% anonymous.)” Alistair you responded, “I’ve never taken any notice”. WTF Ali? Please tell me that this was just British propriety and that you have in fact “taken notice” of the women on the circuit.
Alistair: Not pre-race.
James: Jonny, you believe that Maaike Caelers is the best looking. Tell us more…
Jonny: She’s a fine looking lady, great company and a fine cook.
James: Alistair, the word on the street is that you are quite the singer. I’ve even heard a rumour that you had a singing scholarship. Is it fair to infer that since you’ve “never taken any notice” of the good-looking ladies on the circuit that you are a Mezzo-soprano?
Alistair: I got a singing scholarship to Bradford Grammar School when I was 11, but it all went wrong when my voice dropped.
James: Clearly you’re both going to switch over to long-course eventually. What will change at that point? Is it something you look forward to?
Alistair: Yes, it’s something I will to do at some point. I’m not sure when, maybe after Rio, but until that is out the way I’m not going to spend too much time thinking about it but I do get asked it a lot.
James: Jonny, have you thought of holding on for one Olympics longer than Alistair so that you have a chance at a gold?
Jonny: Yeah, 2020 is a big target because Alistair and Gomez won’t be around, haha. Let’s see what happens in Rio first. I don’t think I’ll be going long yet though.
James: Jonny, in Auckland Barrie and Trevor Harris made a lot of you “taking control” of the lead group on the bike. If I used the same “motivational” techniques with my coworkers that you used to keep Varga and the Polyanskis in line, I would be emptying my desk at the end of the day. At this point how hard do you think it would be for you to reintegrate into society?
Jonny: I think you mean Gold Coast…surely you can tell the difference between Australia and NZ ??
James: Dark Mark strikes again!
Jonny: I haven’t heard/watched the coverage but they probably meant that it was me leading the group on my own and that Alistair wasn’t there.
James: Because of Alistair’s early season injury you two have had very different seasons, with Jonny racing the first three races and Alistair racing the next five. Are you guys purposefully avoiding each other? What are your plans for the remainder of the season?
Alistair: We planned to be on the same trip – Adu Dhabi, Auckland, Gold Coast – and so would have been racing each other but I rolled my ankle and so didn’t travel. It may have worked out better for us, but it wasn’t the plan to avoid each other.
Jonny: We are in St Moritz now and will race Hamburg, Rio test event, Stockholm, Edmonton and Chicago; the rest of the series.
(Note: Since this interview Jonny has been diagnosed with a stress fracture of his femur, so his plans will obviously change.)
James: OK, I’m getting word that I’m supposed to ask you a question that is just a set up for you to list off your sponsors. I apologize, I’m new at this. Problem is that you guys have like 100 sponsors.
Alistair: That’s ok, we do a good job for them. We are trying to do a bit more on Facebook so you can plug that if you want.
James: Are there any companies that sponsor just one of you?
James: What’s something that you actually spend your own money on?
Jonny: Watching Leeds United.
James: Well, that’s it for me boys, do you have any questions for me?
James: Alright, thanks for the time and good luck with the rest of your seasons!
I hope you enjoyed my Brownlee brothers interview. Before conducting this interview I sent them an “anonymous” survey (which was cleverly designed to betray their identities) to give me some ammo for the interview and to let them in on my sense of humour. I didn’t end up using everything from the survey in the interview, so I thought I would include two of the survey results here as bonus content.
First, the question “Are you going to win the Gold medal in 2016?” to which Alistair responded “Yes” and Jonny responded “No”. I don’t know what to make of this, especially when paired with my next question, in which I gave them “My top five” for Rio. I conspicuously left Jonny out of the options. I didn’t give them the option to write in a name, but they could skip the question or at least leave a comment, but both brothers simply ranked the five, and they both ranked them exactly the same.
Apparently Jonny has become so used to being in Alistair’s shadow that his confidence is shattered. Or he just has a sense of humor. I’ll let you decide.