When we think of the greatest British sportsmen and women still competing at the pinnacle of their respective sports, the name of Alistair Brownlee isn’t one clambering with the others to stand at the forefront of our minds. Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis-Hill have rightly been the face of British athletics in recent years but another star deserves a similar level of appreciation; one who is the current Olympic, European and Commonwealth Champion for the men’s triathlon, an event requiring qualities in long-distance running, cycling and swimming. Alistair Brownlee is an undoubted superstar but full appreciation of his stardom is lacking. With the 2015 World Triathlon series beginning to take shape and the 2016 Olympics just over a year away, now is an ideal to shine greater light upon an extraordinary athlete who shone at the 2012 Olympics in London but has spent too much time away from the pedestal he deserves to be standing upon.
Last year was another golden one for a man who has twice been voted as the British Triathlon Male Elite Athlete of the Year, with two Gold’s at the Commonwealth Games, achieved in the individual and team events. Brownlee is a two-time World Champion, a three-time World Team Champion and a three-time European Champion. Nothing tops his performance in Hyde Park during the London Olympics in 2012, winning Gold and in the process becoming the first British Triathlete to win an Olympic medal since the sport was introduced to the Games in Sydney 2000. To be the current Olympic, European and Commonwealth Champion in any sport is astonishing, let alone in such a gruelling event as the Triathlon. It has been utter domination. At 27 years of age he already has ten Gold medals at the elite level with many surely to come. Brownlee claims he is the best all-round triathlete in the world – with these stats, can anyone really argue with him?
Current World Champion Javier Gomez, the Spaniard who won silver in 2012, has declared that Brownlee remains his toughest rival to beat. You can understand this attitude based on the way Brownlee has barged his way back into the field this season after missing the first three races from injury, a fashionably late entrance to a party that just wouldn’t be the same without him. In his first race back in Cape Town he stormed to an immensely impressive victory, reading the transition from bike to run exceptionally and seeing off Garcia in a thrilling sprint-finish. Next up, in Yokahoma, he finished second after another sprint-finish with the Spaniard who heads the current rankings. Now he looks well and truly back into the groove, producing a devastating performance in most recently in London by blowing away his opponents in the 5k run to claim his second win of the season. He is already up to 5th in the overall World Rankings despite competing in just three events. The way he has seamlessly moved straight back into competing for victories shows the level of Brownlee’s ability. It is a talent that has undoubtedly been enhanced by competing all over the world in varying conditions, something that should show young athletes the benefits of competing and training abroad.
The very top athletes are defined not just by their talent but their desire and focus, something that can be tested most severely when the injury curse strikes with a vengeance. Brownlee is a fine example of this, passing this examination with flying colours by winning in Cape Town and London following his return to compeition. His other more recent achievements, such as at the Commonwealth Games and the European Championships last year, should also be understood in the context of the injuries that had denied him the chance to finish inside the World Championship top 3 since he last won it in 2011. Each year injuries have hindered his season, yet each time he has fought back to fitness and found himself threatening and regularly overcoming the same old rivals in this most demanding of sporting undertakings.
What is even more intriguing and inspiring about Brownlee is that he comes as part of a pair, one of the most successful pairs in international sport in fact. It is a very common sight to see him competing for wins around the world with his extremely talented sibling Jonathan Brownlee, who is also a triathlon World Champion and currently number 7 in the world rankings. They are Britain’s premier sporting brotherly duo, often working together to help set the pace and control races. For example Jonathan Brownlee has admitted that, during the 2012 European Championships, he slowed down the pack for his brother after he’d experienced an unfortunate puncture. With Brownlee senior sure to get stronger as the season progresses, and his brother having already won in Auckland and the Sport Lived gap year destination of Brisbane, the 2015 World Triathlon Series is looking likely to be a Brownlee-dominated one once again.
The acknowledgment will be unavoidable if Brownlee becomes the first man to defend the Olympic title next summer in Rio, which he will go into as favourite. Ahead of the London games, he was the reigning men’s World Champion and had won 12 of his previous 15 World Series races. Clearly injuries have meant the start of his preparations this time round have not gone as swimmingly as desired, yet 15 months out there is still plenty of time for the Yorkshireman to get up to full fitness and form. Indeed this year’s competition is one where he must qualify for the Olympics, which will be achieved if he finishes in the top 3 in the Rio test event in August and at the grand final in Chicago in September. Peaking for the race in Brazil is the current target.
Brownlee’s consistency and successes over the last six years have been remarkable and he could dominate the Triathlon for many years to come. Perhaps when he eventually steps away from the sport, we will then be truly able to recognise what he has, and continues, to achieve. If he delivers yet again in Rio next year he will arguably become Britain’s finest ever athlete, in good company alongside the likes of Farah, Ennis-Hill, Holmes and Coe. Alastair Brownlee is on the brink of greatness.
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