Jonny Brownlee: Background, career highlights, quotes

Great Britain triathlete Jonathan Brownlee is one of triathlon's biggest stars and younger brother of two-time Olympic gold medallist, Alistair Brownlee. Here's all you need to know about the three-time Olympic medallist…

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Is it a blessing or a curse to live within the shadow of one of the greatest triathletes this country has ever produced? To often be referred to as ‘Alistair’s younger brother’, ‘Brownlee junior’ or other such diminishing titles. Titles that detract from your own incredible resumé.

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Not that Jonny Brownlee, 31, would protest too much, such is the admiration he holds for his two-time Olympic gold medal-winning brother, Alistair, 33. Rarely have we interviewed Jonny post-race without him acknowledging his older sibling in his post-race analysis.

But this is Jonny Brownlee, now officially the sport’s greatest Olympian having medalled in three consecutive Games, yet almost unable to accept his vast multisporting talent. So when he jokingly said to the BBC, “The Olympics? Completed it”, after winning gold in the first ever Mixed Relay event at the Tokyo Games on 31 July, we shouted “Yes, Jonny!” at the TV, hoping that a part of him really believed it.

Who is Jonny Brownlee?

Whatever the proud Yorkshireman’s honest appraisal of his performance in Japan, it was a fitting sign-off to his Games career, having announced that Tokyo would most likely be his last Olympics (although he recently hinted that he might yet be done).

And with his 23-year-old teammate Alex Yee winning an individual silver five days prior, Jonny can also take a large chunk of credit for the very bright future that lies ahead for Team GB; Yee having been inspired to tri watching the Brownlees take gold and bronze (Jonny, then aged 22) in Hyde Park at the London Olympics in 2012.

Jonny followed that up with individual silver in Rio and a still impressive fifth place in Tokyo. In recognition of his sporting successes he was awarded an MBE in the 2022 New Year’s Honours List.

How old is Jonny Brownlee?

Jonny Brownlee was born on 30 April 1990, making him 31 years old.

Jonny Brownlee’s career highlights

So let’s take a look back at some of the many highlights in Jonny’s 15-year career, which officially started at the 2006 Salford ETU Triathlon Junior European Cup, where the then 16-year-old finished second. Here’s what followed…

2008 – The bronze age 

2008
2008: 3rd at ETU Junior Men Champs Lisbon / World Triathlon

Finishes third in the junior men’s races at both the European Championships in Lisbon and the World Champs in Vancouver.

2009 – Making a name

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 16: Jonathan Brownlee of Great Britain competes in the Mens Triathlon during day three of the Australian Youth Olympic Festival at Sydney International Regatta Centre, Penrith on January 16, 2009 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)
2009: First big profile win at the Australian Youth Olympic Festival / Getty Images

A less competitive field but still his first gold on the international circuit at senior level at the Australian Youth Olympic Festival; goes up two steps to take the Junior European title; and ends the year with a silver at the Junior Worlds – gold goes to one (eventual three-time world champion) Mario Mola.

2010 – A hint of things to come

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2010: 2nd place at ITU World Championship Series London / World Triathlon

2010 sees the first of some impressive U23 and senior results, most notably second behind eventual series winner Javier Gomez in London (Alistair famously bonked and finished 10th); and first ahead of Tim Don at the Sprint Worlds in Lausanne.

2011 – Entering the big league

2011: 1st place at Lausanne ITU Elite Sprint World Championships / World Triathlon
2011: 1st place at Lausanne ITU Elite Sprint World Championships / World Triathlon

In pre-Olympic year, and his first full one racing as a senior, Jonny trades podium places with brother Alistair and Javier Gomez to close the year second overall behind world champion Ali (he also finishes second behind his older brother at the European Champs in Pontevedra). Plus, he retains the Sprint world title in Lausanne.

2012 – Olympic debut and world titles

Silver medallist Spain's Javier Gomez (L) applauds as Gold medallist Britain's Alistair Brownlee (C) celebrates with his brother bronze medallist Britain's Jonathan Brownlee on the podium of the men's triathlon event at the London 2012 Olympic Games on August 7, 2012 in London. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/GettyImages)
2012: Bronze at London 2012 Olympics alongside gold medallist brother, Ali / Getty Images

Jonny’s first Olympic Games and a home one at that. Under intense scrutiny from the world’s press, he keeps his composure to take not only bronze in Hyde Park (despite a 15sec penalty for mounting his bike too soon in T1), but also the mixed relay world title in Stockholm and the individual world title in Auckland, after a sprint to the line with Gomez (which admittedly he loses but it’s still enough to win the overall series!).

2013 – The year of the “tactical numptie”

2013: Just losing out to Gomez at London ITU Grand Final / World Triathlon
2013: Just losing out to Gomez at London ITU Grand Final / World Triathlon

A year later, and he has his second consecutive title in his crosshairs, and again it goes down to a sprint finish in the Grand Final with Gomez. In a repeat of 2012, the Spaniard takes the win… but this time he also takes the title. Alistair, whose own season has been dogged by an Achilles injury, shows little sympathy for his sibling: “He’s thrown a world title away today by being a complete tactical ‘numptie’”.

2014 – Spanish threat and Commonwealth medal haul

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2014: First place at Hamburg ITU Triathlon Mixed Relay World Champs / World Triathlon

With a home nations Commonwealths to contend in July, the 2014 World Triathlon Series plays second fiddle to the English athlete, paving the way for the Spanish duo of Gomez and Mario Mola to duke it out for the title. The former would take his fourth of five, ahead of Mola in silver-medal position and Jonny the bronze, who was still suffering with a stomach bug picked up at the last race in Stockholm. At the Glasgow Games, Jonny also adds Commonwealth individual silver and mixed team relay gold to his ever-expanding medal haul.

2015 – Punctures and fractures

2015: Puncture spells disaster and 42nd place in Hyde Park for Jonny / World Triathlon
2015: Puncture spells disaster and 42nd place in Hyde Park for Jonny / World Triathlon

A mixed bag for JB in another pre-Olympic year with a couple of strong wins in Auckland and the Gold Coast before a rare puncture in the last-ever race in Hyde Park blows what could have been a brotherly battle for the ages – Alistair wins ­– and he eventually hobbles in in 42nd place. A hairline fracture curtails all but the final race of the season, in Chicago, where he finishes a commendable 12th despite little run training. He ends the year in 11th place overall.

2016 – Medals and monumental meltdowns

2016: Cozumel, Ali:
2016: ITU Grand Final Cozumel, Ali: “I wish the flippin’ idiot had paced it!” / World Triathlon

Winning a silver medal at the Rio Games should have been this year’s ‘most memorable Jonny moment’. However, things don’t quite go to plan at the Grand Final in Cozumel, Mexico, where Jonny has his own ‘Ali 2010 Hyde Park’ moment on the finishing chute. Luckily Alistair’s there to prop him up and carry/throw a bewildered Jonny across the line in an attempt to claim the world title (and reach urgent medical care) – Jonny needs to win and Mola to finish no higher than fourth, but with Jonny in second (Henri Schoeman overtakes the Brownlee pair to win the race) and Mola finishing fifth it’s enough – by just four points – for the Spaniard to win his first of three consecutive world titles. Once again, Alistair has some words of empathy for Jonny after the race: “I wish the flippin’ idiot had paced it!” Another race of note this season is the first WTS in Leeds, where the brothers delight the home crowd with a one-two, two months before a repeat in Rio.

2017 – Bike-carrying heroics

2017: 2nd at ITU Leeds
2017: 2nd on home soil at ITU World Triathlon Leeds / World Triathlon

While Jonny’s hoping for a quieter year after the global-headline-making Cozumel race, fate has other ideas. First, a hip injury, which forces him to sit out the first-ever Super League event in March and the first two WTS races in Abu Dhabi and Gold Coast. Then a bike crash at his comeback race in Yokohama, in May, which sees him carry his broken steed for 1km into T2, before he eventually runs home in 42nd place. Another 1-2 behind Alistair in Leeds sees him back at the pointy end but three races out of the points costs him dear, and he finishes the year sixth in the series.

2018 – The “worst” one yet 

2018: Mixed Relay silver at Commonwealth Games in Australia / Getty Images
2018: Mixed Relay silver at Commonwealth Games in Australia / Getty Images

A busy but ultimately disappointing year for Jonny as a mixture of bad luck, injury flare-ups and uncharacteristic mistakes sees Jonny off the pace from the start. “Panicking” at the earlier-than-usual Commonwealth Games, in April, he overtrains and gets a stress response in his femur. He does, however, come home with a mixed relay silver; the home nation, Australia, takes gold. A heartbreaking DNF in Leeds follows after a stomach bug rears its race-derailing head and brings the otherwise stoic northerner to tears. Some solid top-five results follow, but he just finishes the series out of the top 10 in 11th.

2019 – A mixed bag

2019: An exstatic 1st at ITU World Triathlon Edmonton / World Triathlon
2019: An ecstatic 1st at ITU World Triathlon Edmonton / World Triathlon

Unfortunately, pre-Olympic year – as it then was  – doesn’t start any better than last, with undiagnosed stomach trouble seeing a very dejected Jonny post-Leeds admitting that his performance was way off where it should be, before a bike crash forces him out of Hamburg. Come July, though, and he’s back on top, literally, as he claims his first WTS podium since Stockholm 2017 ahead of a strong field in Edmonton. He misses out on automatic Team GB Tokyo qualification at the test event by finishing off the podium in an eerily-prescient fifth, and ends the year in eighth at the Grand Final after a crash in T2.

2020 – The year the earth stood still

2020:
2020: Covid strikes, 31st at Hamburg Wasser World Triathlon / World Triathlon

With the Olympics moved to 2021 and the world in lockdown, racing options are slim. By September, restrictions were relaxed enough for a one-off Worlds to go ahead, but feeling “weak from start to finish”, Jonny can only manage 31st. In November, it’s announced that Jonny will be racing in Tokyo for Team GB for what will be his third consecutive Olympic Games.

2021 – Completing the Olympics

TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 31: (L-R) Jessica Learmonth, Jonathon Brownlee, Georgia Taylor-Brown and Alex Yee of Team Great Britain celebrate on the podium during the medal ceremony following the Mixed Relay Triathlon on day eight of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Odaiba Marine Park on July 31, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
2021: Jonny’s first Olympic gold in the Tokyo 2020 Mixed Relay / Getty Images

In the weirdest Olympic year in living memory, Jonny racks up the racing miles where he can. But his year doesn’t start great when he produces a disappointing result in Yokohama – 23rd – after coming straight from altitude training in the States into hotel quarantine. A ninth in his home race Leeds – where brother Alistair is DSQ’d for dunking another athlete in the swim, and teammate Alex Yee shows the world what he’s made of with a maiden World Series win – suggests an individual medal in Tokyo could be a stretch. And so it came to pass; the two-time Olympic medallist running in for fifth, with Yee taking silver. A phenomenal team gold in the inaugural Mixed Relay, just five days later, however, completes his Olympic medal haul and officially makes Jonny the most decorated triathlon Olympian.

In September he also races in the much-loved Super League Series, proving there’s still plenty of fight in him as he sprints to the finish with teammate Yee in Jersey and finishes the overall series in third place.

In October, he raced his first 70.3 in Cascais, Portugal, where he finished sixth and admitted he was “already looking forward to my next 70.3 race!”

 

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Jonny Brownlee quotes

On how it feels to win gold (post Commonwealths mixed relay, 2014): “It’s nice. I want to win [gold] but I’m usually beaten by Alistair! To get a gold medal is special.”

On his bonk at the Grand final Cozumel, 2016: “Not how I wanted to end the season, but gave it everything. Thanks @AliBrownleetri, your loyalty is incredible”

On 2018: “It’s been the worst season of my career”

On his DNF at the 2018 Leeds World Tri Series race: “I didn’t feel quite right on race day, but athletes are the best people in the world at lying to themselves.”

On his career aspirations when asked at the end of 2018: “After 2020 I’ll definitely be ready for a change to the longer stuff”

On completing the medal set with gold in Tokyo: ‘”Olympics, I’ve completed it!”

On potentially racing the 2024 Paris Games: “Paris… is only three years’ away, although a Games is always a project of a couple of years. Now I have to think about if Paris 2024 is something I seriously want to consider.”

What’s next for Jonny Brownlee?

After a great Games in Tokyo for one of the most experienced athletes on the World Triathlon circuit, Jonny Brownlee has flirted with the idea of going for a fourth Olympic starting berth. But his focus in 2022 will be on his third Commonwealth outing in Birmingham alongside his Tokyo teammates. Beyond that, having dabbled in his first middle distance at the end of 2021 at Ironman 70.3 Cascais, expect to see him continue moving up the distances.

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Top image: Getty Images