Rio 2016: Jonny Brownlee eyes Alistair's scalp

LEEDS brothers Alistair and Jonny Brownlee were one step away from perfection at the London 2012 Olympics.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 5th August 2016, 8:00 am
Updated Friday, 5th August 2016, 11:24 am
Olympic gold winning triathlete Alistair Brownlee and his Bronze winning Jonny Brownlee, celebrate at Millennium Square, Leeds in 2012.
Olympic gold winning triathlete Alistair Brownlee and his Bronze winning Jonny Brownlee, celebrate at Millennium Square, Leeds in 2012.

Only Spain’s Javier Gomez denied the Brownlee brothers a one-two, with gold medallist Alistair followed two places back in third by his younger brother.

The prospects of a dream one-two in Rio a week on Thursday have been quite obviously enhanced with the news that Gomez will miss the race through injury.

Better still, Jonny Brownlee believes Rio di Janiero’s Fort Copacabana triathlon course will actually suit himself and his brother even more than the Hyde Park spectacle at London 2012.

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Jonny Brownlee

Defending champion and back-to-form Alistair is an odds-on favourite to make it successive Olympic golds in Rio and it is hard to argue with the bookmakers’ assessments.

The 28-year-old has returned better than ever after injury and approaches his South American assignment following two victories in the ITU 2016 Triathlon Series in Stockholm and Leeds.

Jonny, two years Alistair’s junior, was second in both.

The brothers then sat out the series’ most recent race in Hamburg, won by Spain’s Mario Mola, who was 19th at London 2012 but has improved leaps and bounds since.

Jonny Brownlee

It is 26-year-old Mola that is considered the biggest threat to Alistair’s crown with the Spaniard 3-1 second favourite, ahead of Richard Murray at 12s and Jonny at 14s. The younger Brownlee brother particularly respects Mola as a big danger but has no doubts as to the identity of the race’s most likely winner – his elder brother.

But Jonny’s task is to convert his own third-placed Olympics finish into a first – and the 26-year-old says the chances of a Brownlee one-two must be high, in whatever order, at a course more tailor made to their style than in 2012.

Assessing the prospects of himself and his brother medalling in South America, Jonny admitted: “Our chances are hopefully good and it’s a course that should suit us more than London.

“London – with the fast swim and bike – it wasn’t likely to break up so it should have come down to a run.

“If you have got 50 people coming off the bike together then obviously anyone can have a good day.

“But in Rio it should really be a small pack of ten to 12 athletes, and the strongest all-round triathlete should win on the day. Hopefully it’s me.

“I’d say if everyone was on their absolute peak in training and as fit as they could possibly be, then I think Alistair would be favourite.

“I still believe on that course he will be very hard to beat.

“If I can get myself into the shape I was in in Australia last year when I won, then I think I would be pretty close to being nearly on a par with Alistair as favourite.

“You know what level Mario is going to be and the question is who can get to that? If we can get to that then hopefully we will be favourites.

“But it’s actually quite nice going into this Olympics not being 100 per cent favourite but knowing in the back of 
your mind that if you do get things right you could be favourite.”

Both brothers have certainly looked in brilliant condition in their two most recent World Series races, with Alistair leading home a memorable one-two in the series’ first ever race in Leeds in June.

That triumph brought back memories of London – another magical win on British soil – but Jonny is aware that the challenge of excelling in Rio is very different.

It is, though, a challenge and experience that the Leeds-born star is champing at the bit for.

“In London, I had run the exact course once before,” said Jonny.

“I’d caught the train down to London, stayed in the hotel probably ten times before and eaten the food in the hotel before so I knew everything to expect.

“Rio feels a little bit more new to me, but surprisingly that might be quite nice – going through the excitement – it’s a proper Olympic experience whereas London was very much a case of ‘I have done that many times before.’

“We picked up our same taxi before pretty much and I’d done the train route down to London 50 times before.

“The race itself was obviously incredible but the whole experience up to that was very much what I had done before whereas Rio is going to be very, very exciting. Maybe I will thrive off that.”

The duo have also been thriving upon their recent training, with the final hard yards made at altitude in St Moritz this last month.

And a key part of the Rio medal quest comes in the third athlete set to represent not just Team GB, but also the city of Leeds.

Gordon Benson will make his Olympic debut as a support athlete for the Brownlees and, given that the trio have known each other for some 15 years, Jonny says Benson’s selection has been music to the Brownlee boys’ ears – and a further huge boost for their home city and county.

With Non Stanford and Vicky Holland also based in Leeds – five of the six Team GB triathletes are based in the city.

“It’s exciting isn’t it,” beamed Jonny.

“But it’s one of those things where if you actually step back it kind of makes sense.

“If you have a structure that works with the coaches and the belief that if you work hard you achieve, then other athletes buy into that.

“Obviously, you have got the environment, it’s already set up with the facilities now and the council support and things like that – and it makes sense really because other athletes come into it.

“Just like I experienced with Alistair, you see him train day in, day out as a young kid and see him winning world championships.

“You do the same training as him and you think ‘I can do that as well.’

“Non came and saw us training and now does the same training as us or similar training and thinks ‘well I can do that as well.’ It kind of makes sense.”

Hailing the selection of Benson to the team, Jonny laughed: “Gordon went to Leeds Grammar School and I have known Gordon since I was about 12.

“He was a little runner coming through and he has trained in Leeds since he was probably 15 so the boys’ team is real, real Leeds and obviously the girls have moved to the city as well.

“We are a very close team and obviously myself and Alistair have worked well together with Gordon in the past.

“It helps that we have known him for a long, long time, that you really trust him and also personalities help because it’s not as simple as the athletic ability.

“You have to go away together to Switzerland for five weeks, to Brazil two weeks before so you have to get on with someone well.

“Gordon is a Leeds United fan so we have got things to talk about like that!”