Family’s pride at star siblings
If you’re in a newsagent in the leafy suburb of Bramhope over the coming days, don’t be surprised to find Jonny Brownlee in there, buying multiple packs of Olympic stickers.
As a young boy growing up, Jonny bought stickers by the bucketload of his heroes to fill his sporting albums.
Now the 22-year-old Leeds triathlete is determined to lay his hands on a sticker of himself to place in his Olympic compendium.
“I think that’s when the excitement hit home for Jonny,” says his dad Keith.
“When he saw his name in that sticker book and his place in Team GB, it meant a lot to him.
“He had always been a big sticker book fan, buying them before the Olympics, World Cups and European Championships.
“I don’t think he’s laid his hands on one yet, though, but as ever, he’s determined to do it.”
It is that determination that marks Jonny and his older brother Alistair out as two men to watch at London 2012, which officially begins this evening with the opening ceremony at the Olympic Stadium.
The Leeds brothers have set the triathlon world alight.
Alistair, 24, is the two-time world champion and a double winner of the European title.
If he doesn’t win, world No 2 Jonny is likely to take the honours.
The two have left the rest of the world playing catch up in the multi-displine event of swimming, cycling and running.
It means they will go into the Olympic triathlon on Tuesday, August 7, hot favourites to win gold and silver.
And cheering them every step of the way will be their parents, Keith and Cath, and their uncle, Simon Hearnshaw.
“We’re all very excited and enormously proud of the boys. We are all really looking forward to it,” says Keith. “Simon is especially excited and he’s becoming very animated by the whole thing.
“He’s going down with members of his Barracuda Triathlon Club in Hull and they’ve all had t-shirts made supporting the boys.
“We’ve had people phoning us to wish us good luck, neighbours popping in to wish us all the best.
“The Olympics has given the boys a high profile, as have all their sponsors.”
The Brownlees’ biggest sponsor is BT, who have plastered the boys’ faces all over Leeds and throughout Yorkshire.
Peering down from billboards and from passing buses are two young men who have the backing of their home city.
For their family, seeing them plastered here, there and everywhere, provokes a mixture of emotions. “There’s pictures of the boys all over,” adds Keith.
“You see their faces on telephone boxes, taxis, billboards, outside schools. It’s terrific, a real source of pride. It puts a smile on your face but it also sends a little shiver down your spine.
“It all builds up the expectation.”
Despite this the Brownlee brothers remain grounded.
It is one of the attributes that makes them so deadly in competition; they never let their emotions get the better of them.
Even when Alistair damaged his Achilles earlier this year, there was never anything other than a sensible diet of rest and recuperation before making a return in Blenheim and then Kitzbuhel to allay fears the injury may have scuppered his Olympic hopes.
And when not training, the boys – who will not leave for London until next weekend – have been taking life in their stride.
Keith says: “The boys came over last Sunday and they were absolutely no different to how they would have been any other time.
“They were the same as they always are, didn’t matter to them that an Olympics is right around the corner.
“We will stick to our normal routine over the next week, they’ll come round a couple of times.
“Obviously there’s a real excitement about what they are about to embark upon, but they are level-headed boys.
“Plus up until last week they had been away from all the hype at their training camp in St Moritz, Switzerland. I don’t think they’ve been as exposed to it as you’d expect.”
The Brownlee clan will watch the Olympic triathlon from the stands on the main finish line at Hyde Park, when they hope to see their sons, draped in the Union or Yorkshire flags cross the line in victory.
If they do, it will stir echoes of the great Olympic stories they have sat and watched together in the past.
“We are going down on the Friday and until then we’ll be avid, obsessed viewers of the Olympics,” says Keith.
“This family always has been.
“I remember watching the Sydney Games in 2000.
“It was probably the boys’ first memory of the Olympics.
“We got up in the early hours one morning to watch the action, all three of us lying on the floor in the snug.
“Little did we know then they’d be competing in one together.
“Jonny maintains that night that myself and Alistair fell asleep and he carried on watching the sport.
“I’m not sure that’s how I remember it!”
Getting an edge over a brother is a natural action for siblings.
While Alistair and Jonny have revolutionised the way triathlons are run, it is a relationship that is strong both on and off the course.
Keith says: “They’re competitive in the home environment, but more supportive in a triathlon environment, which goes against common beliefs about triathlon, because it is perceived as an individual sport.
“It’s a sport that requires a certain degree of co-operation, and as brothers they have that distinct advantage over the rest.
“The fact that they are brothers has helped them progress.
“Triathlon became really serious for Alistair when he won the world junior championships in Lausanne in 2006. From there, a hobby and a pastime very quickly became a profession.
“He got into Girton College at Cambridge to study medicine, after pretty much teaching himself further maths.
“But very quickly it became apparent he had an opportunity to pursue a professional sporting career and it made sense for him to do it now, when he is young.
“In triathlon terms, Jonny very much followed in his brother’s footsteps. Both took to it very quickly.
“It all evolved from a healthy outdoor lifestyle. And the whole family is immensely proud of them.”