Glory in Rio and compassion in Cozumel puts Brownlee in frame for Sports Personality honour

Alistair Brownlee with his triathlon gold medal at the Rio Olympics.
Alistair Brownlee with his triathlon gold medal at the Rio Olympics.
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LEEDS triathlete Alistair Brownlee knows the odds are stacked against him ahead of tomorrow’s BBC Sports Personality Of The Year Award.

World no 1 tennis sensation Andy Murray is a red-hot 1-7 favourite after his Wimbledon, Olympics and Davis Cup heroics – and Brownlee is merely thrilled and somewhat surprised to make the list of contenders.

The honest Yorkshireman knows his brotherly helping hand to younger sibling Jonny in the ITU Triathlon Series in Mexico is largely responsible for his appearance. Nevertheless, Murray already looks to have one hand on the prestigious prize.

But Brownlee knows the same could be said of Hilary Clinton’s bid to sit in the White House and Great Britain’s prospects of staying in the European Union – with the Leeds star not abandoning hope of springing a shock as he smiles: “It’s a year of funny votes.”

Double Olympic triathlon champion Brownlee is one of 16 contenders hoping to be crowned BBC Sports Personality Of The Year at the Genting Arena in Birmingham tomorrow evening.

Five of the 16 fly the flag for Yorkshire with 28-year-old Brownlee joined by Leeds’ double Olympic boxing champion Nicola Adams, Leicester City’s Sheffield-born Premier League champion Jamie Vardy, another Steel City ace in golf’s Masters star hero Danny Willett and Leeds’ triple Paralympic medallist Kadeena Cox.

Laura Kenny, Gareth Bale, Nick Skelton, Jason Kenny, Max Whitlock, Adam Peaty, Dame Sarah Storey, Kate Richardson-Walsh and Sophie Chrsitiansen complete the list.

Somewhat to his surprise, Brownlee is rated the most likely threat to Murray as the clear 9-1 second favourite yet still every inch the underdog. Yet as Dewsbury-born Brownlee is all too aware, 2016 has been a year where there has been no such thing as a foregone conclusion.

“It’s a year of funny votes isn’t it?” laughed Brownlee, taking ten minutes out of his time for an exclusive interview with the Yorkshire Evening Post. “I definitely feel like the underdog going into it so you never know.

“I feel very, very lucky to even be there to be honest and it’s a real honour to be there talked about with some of these guys.

“To win it – I am not even really thinking about it.

“But of course it’s ridiculously special and it would mean a massive amount. It would be really, really special but I am trying not to think about it too much.

“I am just going to go down, enjoy the event and see.”

Realistically, after Murray’s near perfect year, the Leeds triathlete knows he is up against it. And despite being rated as the biggest threat to Murray’s crown, Brownlee was merely surprised to even feature on the 16-strong shortlist. There has, though, been more to Brownlee’s sporting year than merely winning Olympic gold.

The Leeds star’s younger brother Jonny led September’s Mexico race of the ITU World Series heading into the home straight but became exhausted and looked destined not to finish.

Alistair, though, rounding the final bend in second, slowed to a walk to help his brother over the finish line – sacrificing his own chances of victory.

“I’m not going to let him forget it any time soon,” laughed Alistair.

“We have a laugh about it but it’s good natured and what happened, happened.

“Although I feel like I have done well in my sport this year – and it’s been fantastic to achieve at the level I have – I am kind of very aware that I am up there because of the whole events in Mexico as well which is interesting because you think the attention you receive should be kind of equivalent to your performance and not other things.

“It’s been quite an interesting thing to get my head around.

“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind for both of us really in terms of the interest it got and talking about it and I think that was tough at first.

“We had to decide did we want to talk about it but it’s just given us a platform to talk about triathlon and talk about activity and talk about getting kids active – all things that we are passionate about.

“On that front it has definitely been good.”

The effect of those events in Mexico will seem even more important should the triathlete now spring a surprise tomorrow evening. But for all that Brownlee has huge respect for Murray’s achievements, it is quadruple Olympic champion and long distance running king Farah that would earn the Leeds racer’s vote.

Brownlee reasoned: “I think if I was to vote I would probably vote for Mo because for me, his actual athletic achievement is just incredible.

“It’s not something that he’s the first Brit to do, he’s the first person ever to do what he has done and I think that is just amazing – the consistency across the time and everything is just really, really impressive.

“Obviously I think his achievements are incredible.

“It’s really, really impressive – winning Wimbledon and being world no 1 is amazing and as a Brit – not necessarily known for our tennis.

“And tennis is a big, competetive, really top end sport and a professional sport and his achievements are amazing.

“But just for me Mo gets it, purely because it’s his achievement and no-one has done what he has done before, not at an Olympics and a World Champs in what are two of the real blue riband athletic events.

“I just think it’s incredible.

“For me, it’s great even to be up there with some of these people in what is such a massive year for British sport with an incredible long list of athletes on it but also people that have missed out.

“There’s some big obvious ones like Chris Froome and Anthony Joshua who aren’t even on the list.”

Alistair Brownlee is one of the 16 contenders for BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2016 which is live on BBC One, Sunday, December 18 at 6.40pm.

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