Four-time world champion, four-time European champion, Commonwealth Games champion and, most significantly, double Olympic gold medallist… is there no end to what Alistair Brownlee can achieve?
Here, we take a look at the British ace’s story so far, all the way from those early days in the junior ranks right up to present day.
Who is Alistair Brownlee?
When, in 2016, he jogged towards the finish line on the Rio beachfront, a Union Jack flag in his hand and the broadest of smiles across his face, Alistair Brownlee knew he was just about to make history: the first triathlete ever to retain their Olympic title.
The victory was arguably as sweet as the one in London four years earlier, especially as kid brother Jonny was just a little way back on the blue carpet, ready to bag the silver he missed out on in 2012.
For most elite triathletes, just one Olympic medal of any hue would be the ultimate career highlight. But Alistair Brownlee isn’t most elite triathletes. This Olympic double came after he’d already made an indelible impression on the sport.
By the end of the 2011 season, and still at the age of 23, Brownlee was already in possession of two elite world titles to go alongside the junior and U23 world crowns that were in the family trophy cabinet back in West Yorkshire.
Then there was the Commonwealth Games gold in 2014, along with no fewer than four European champion titles. And let’s not forget the MBE he was awarded in 2013.
The twin spectres of bad form and niggling injury meant Brownlee didn’t get the chance to make it a hat-trick of Olympic golds in Tokyo, but by then he was already writing a new chapter in his sporting career.
In 2017, he first competed at Ironman 70.3 and proved himself a natural at middle-distance racing, winning a string of races as well as two world championship silvers. He’s since moved up to Ironman and, in his second race at the distance at Ironman Western Australia in December 2019, he set a new course record.
Brownlee is simply the greatest male triathlete these shores have produced. His achievements are particularly impressive as they came in a genuine golden age for men’s short-course triathlon, one graced by the likes of Javier Gomez, Mario Mola, Vincent Luis and, of course, his own brother, Jonny Brownlee.
How old is Alistair Brownlee?
Alistair Brownlee was born on 23 April 1988, making him 33 years old.
Alistair Brownlee’s career highlights
September 2006: Junior world title makes it a British hat-trick
As a portent of what’s to come from both him and British triathlon, Brownlee wins the junior world championship in Lausanne, making it a clean sweep for the Brits with Tim Don bagging the elite title and Will Clarke winning the U23 crown.
June 2008: World crown number two in Canada
Only a couple of months beyond his 20th birthday, Brownlee pockets his second world title when he takes the U23 race at the world champs in Vancouver.
May 2009: Brownlee hits the ground running in WTS
In his first-ever taste of the brand-new World Triathlon Series that will now decide the identity of the world champion over a season of races, Brownlee wins in Madrid. His future great rival, the Spaniard Javier Gomez, can only manage bronze on his home turf.
September 2009: Perfect five makes Brownlee a world-beater
Having won in every round of the WTS in which he’s competed (as well as Madrid, there are victories in Washington DC, Kitzbühel and London), Brownlee makes it five from five with the win in the Grand Final on Australia’s Gold Coast. At 21, he’s the first men’s world champion to be crowned through the WTS set-up.
July 2010: A pocketful of Euros
To go alongside his world title, Brownlee becomes European champion in Athlone in Ireland, again leaving Gomez in his wake. The Yorkshireman will retain the title in 2011, while also winning it in 2014 and 2019.
September 2011: Another masterful bunch of fives
Having relinquished his world title to Gomez in 2010, the 2011 WTS series sees Brownlee regaining the imperious form he showed two years earlier.
He scores five race victories, culminating in triumph at the Grand Final in Beijing. A second WTS title is his, with brother Jonny pipping Gomez for silver.
August 2012: Olympic champion on home tarmac
Arguably the highlight of his entire career, Brownlee takes to the streets of London as the favourite for Olympic gold and he doesn’t disappoint. He becomes a truly household name overnight, as does third-placed Jonny.
July 2014: Another Games, another gold
Commonwealth Games champion is added to the Brownlee CV as he finishes 11 seconds ahead of his sibling to make it a 1-2 for England in Glasgow.
August 2016: The Olympic history-maker
On Copacabana Beach, Brownlee becomes the first triathlete in history to win two Olympic golds. He slows just before the finishing line to watch and welcome Jonny go one better than in London four years earlier by taking silver.
September 2016: Brotherly love from Brownlee the elder
Jonny is poised to take the world title at the WTS Grand Final in Cozumel. Victory will secure this and he’s comfortably ahead. But then he’s stricken by heat stroke with 700m left and big brother Ali has to surrender his own race to help him over the finishing line.
Despite Brownlee senior’s efforts, Jonny has been overtaken by South African Henri Schoeman, meaning eighth-placed Mario Mola has done enough to steal the world title away by just four points.
May 2017: A seamless transition into 70.3
In his first Ironman event, Brownlee takes victory at the 70.3 race in St George, Utah, beating a strong field that includes highly experienced campaigners like Lionel Sanders and Sebastian Kienle.
September 2018: Silver at the 70.3 world champs
After further 70.3 wins in Liuzhou and Dubai, Brownlee takes silver at the half-distance world championships behind Jan Frodeno. He remains, however, a thorn in Javier Gomez’s side and the Spaniard has to settle for bronze.
June 2019: An Ironman triumph at the first attempt
In cold and wet conditions in Cork, Brownlee wins the first full-distance Ironman he’s ever competed in, though the race is reduced to a bike-run format due to the weather.
September 2019: Another world champs, another silver
December 2019: Further Ironman success down under
Brownlee registers his second Ironman victory in the more agreeable climate of Western Australia. The win, in a course record time, sees him qualify for the 2020 world championships in Kona, but the event falls victim to the Covid-19 pandemic and is cancelled.
June 2021: Tokyo Olympics hopes fade
After a couple of years blighted by the pandemic and injuries, Brownlee arrives in Leeds hoping to stake a claim on the second or (by now very unlikely third) spot in the men’s team for the rearranged Tokyo Olympics.
Things don’t go to plan, however, as Brownlee is disqualified for ducking America’s Chase McQueen in the swim. Alex Yee goes on to win the race, takes the second and final Olympic spot and, well, the rest is history.
Alistair Brownlee in quotes
On the aftermath of his first WTS world title in 2009: “Afterwards on the Gold Coast it was crazy. I was getting stopped everywhere for autographs and pictures. I was starting to get really sick of it and then I flew home. I went out for a meal with friends that night, had a few drinks and no-one came up to me. ‘Oh, nothing’s changed. Thank God for that.’”
On having to help brother Jonny over the line at the WTS Grand Final in Cozumel in 2016: “I wish the flipping idiot had just paced it right and won the race. He could have jogged the last 2km.”
On being disqualified in his hometown WTS race in Leeds in 2021, effectively removing any chance of defending his Olympic title in Tokyo: “I only knew I was disqualified on the last lap so it was a bitter end to it. It’s a subjective field of play decision, but it is what it is.”
What’s next for Alistair Brownlee?
Brownlee hasn’t been racing full Ironmans for long enough yet to have had a seismic impact on the scene, but it’s surely only a matter of time. The ambition is certainly there.
With two editions of the world championships in 2022, plus the enticing carrot of posting the world’s first sub-seven-hour full-distance triathlon, Brownlee has plenty to occupy himself with for now.
Top image credit: Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images for Ironman