BROTHERS, friends, team-mates, rivals...the incomparable Alistair and Jonny Brownlee turned the Olympic triathlon into a one-family race as they produced the performances of their lives on the sun-soaked streets of Rio.
Totally invincible, their emotional embrace at the end of a gruelling one hour, 45 minute sporting marathon will go down in history as one of the iconic images of these Games as Alistair, 28, became the first triathlete to defend an Olympic title.
Slumped on the ground with exhaustion, Jonny, too, collapsed in a heap before stretching out his left hand to acknowledge the supremacy of his brother’s victory before the pair summoned the strength to embrace each other on the Copacabana roadside.
Only then did they climb to their weary feet and salute the cheering crowds who had turned this iconic location, nestled in the shadow of the imposing Sugarloaf Mountain, into a noisy suburb of Leeds with railings bedecked in countless Yorkshire and Team GB flags.
After all, this victory was even more dominant than London 2012 when Alistair and Jonny were separated by Spain’s Javier Gomez who was a notable absentee from the Olympics with a fractured elbow sustained in training shortly after the Leeds leg of the world series.
Strong in the sea, the Brownlees once again controlled the peloton – Alistair barking instructions to all and sundry – after their biggest rival Mario Mola, a compatriot of Gomez, missed the break (the pace was that hot) before Yorkshire’s heroes hit the front on the first of four laps of excruciating running, 10,000 metres in total, which would determine the outcome.
Only France’s Vincent Luis could live with the boys from Bramhope – and his challenge soon faded as Alistair, running conservatively by his own exceptional standards, edged onto the shoulder of his 26-year-old younger brother. It was nip and tuck, neither Brownlee giving an inch, as the pair stretched their legs and built up an unassailable lead – the only unanswered question was which sibling would have the stronger legs.
Even though it had been Jonny who had been producing the more impressive times in training, largely because Alistair has had to spend the whole year nursing his injury-ravaged body following reconstructive ankle surgery, the defending champion was an ominous presence and took every opportunity to take on fluids while also sponging water over his energy-sapped body – woe betide the volunteer at a feeding station who was admonished for being too slow off the mark.
A victory made in Leeds, years of training and sacrifice culminated with Alistair surging so far clear that he was able to collect two flags in the closing stages as he slowed to a jog and sauntered across the line five seconds ahead of his gutsy and gallant sibling.
He was also able to savour the moment – the grimace which had been etched across Alistair’s face for the entirety of this triathlon replaced by the broadest of smiles as he soaked up this triumph.
“I had the chance to enjoy it...it will probably never happen again. I had to go through hell today – and I did,” said the victor after his brother and training partner had emerged as the only threat to his Olympic title.
As for Jonny, his magnanimity and droll humour came to the fore. “I’ve got used to being beaten by Alistair,” he confided. “I’m not normally emotional, I like to think I am a tough Yorkshireman, but I was emotional at the end.”
And with good reason.
First and third in London, first and second in Rio was the ultimate result for these fearless brothers-in-arms whose deeds have turned Leeds into the triathlon capital of the world. Like their hard-earned Olympic medals, it is a title which will not be easily surrendered as the Brownlees take triathlon – and sportsmanship – to inspirational new levels. Well done lads, you did us proud.