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 resume.
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.
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, 23, 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 in Tokyo.
So let’s take a look back at some of the many highlights in Jonny’s 15-year, Olympic-distance 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…
2007 – First rung on the ladder
1st – 2007 Kuopio ETU Triathlon U23 and Youth European Champs, Youth Men Relay
2008 – The bronze age
3rd – 2008 Lisbon ETU Triathlon European Championships, Junior Men
3rd – 2008 Vancouver Triathlon World Champs, Junior Men
2009 – Making a name
A less competitive field but still his first gold on the international circuit at senior level; 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 Mario Mola.
1st – 2009 Australian Youth Olympic Festival, Elite Men
1st – 2009 Holten ETU Triathlon European Championships, Junior Men
2nd – 2009 ITU World Championship Grand Final Gold Coast, Junior Men
2010 – A hint of things to come
2010 sees the first of some impressive U23 and senior results, most notably 2nd behind eventual series winner Javier Gomez in London (Alistair famously bonked and finished 10th); and 1st ahead of Tim Don at the Sprint Worlds in Lausanne.
2nd – 2010 ITU World Championship Series London, Elite Men
1st – 2010 Lausanne ITU Elite Sprint Triathlon World Champs, Elite Men
2nd – 2010 Vila Nova de Gaia ETU Triathlon U23 European Champs, U23 Men
1st – 2010 ITU Triathlon World Championship Grand Final Budapest, U23 Men
2011 – Entering the big league
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 retains the Sprint world title.
2nd – 2011 ITU World Championship Series Sydney
2nd – 2011 ITU World Championship Series Madrid
2nd – 2011 Pontevedra ETU Triathlon European Champs
3rd – 2011 ITU World Championship Series London
1st – 2011 Lausanne ITU Elite Sprint Triathlon World Championships
3rd – 2011 ITU World Championship Grand Final Beijing
2nd – 2011 World Triathlon Series
2012 – Olympic debut and world titles
2012 – 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!).
1st – 2012 ITU World Triathlon San Diego
1st – 2012 ITU World Triathlon Madrid
2nd – 2012 ITU World Triathlon Kitzbühel
3rd – 2012 London Olympic Games
1st – 2012 ITU World Triathlon Stockholm
1st – 2012 Stockholm ITU Triathlon Mixed Relay World Champs
2nd – 2012 World Triathlon Grand Final Auckland
1st – 2012 World Triathlon Series
2013 – The year of the “tactical numptie”
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’”.
1st – 2013 ITU World Triathlon Yokohama
1st – 2013 ITU World Triathlon Madrid
1st – 2013 ITU World Triathlon Hamburg
3rd – 2013 ITU World Triathlon Stockholm
2nd – 2013 ITU World Triathlon Grand Final London
2nd – 2013 World Triathlon Series
2014 – Spanish threat and Commonwealth medal haul
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.
2nd – 2014 ITU World Triathlon Auckland
2nd – 2014 ITU World Triathlon Cape Town
5th – 2014 ITU World Triathlon Yokohama
5th – 2014 ITU World Triathlon London
3rd – 2014 ITU World Triathlon Hamburg
1st – 2014 Hamburg ITU Triathlon Mixed Relay World Champs
1st – 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games Mixed Relay
2nd – 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games
1st – 2014 ITU World Triathlon Stockholm
4th – 2014 ITU World Triathlon Grand Final Edmonton
3rd – 2014 World Triathlon Series
2015 – Punctures and fractures
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.
5th – 2015 ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi
1st – 2015 ITU World Triathlon Auckland
1st – 2015 ITU World Triathlon Gold Coast
11th – 2015 World Triathlon Series
2016 – Medals and monumental meltdowns
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.
3rd – 2016 ITU World Triathlon Gold Coast
2nd – 2016 ITU World Triathlon Cape Town
2nd – 2016 ITU World Triathlon Leeds
2nd – 2016 ITU World Triathlon Stockholm
2nd – 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games
1st – 2016 Karlovy Vary ETU Triathlon Premium European Cup
1st – 2016 ITU World Triathlon Edmonton
2nd – 2016 ITU World Triathlon Grand Final Cozumel
2nd – 2016 World Triathlon Series
2017 – Bike-carrying heroics
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.
42nd – 2017 ITU World Triathlon Yokohama
2nd – 2017 ITU World Triathlon Leeds
4th – 2017 ITU World Triathlon Edmonton
4th – 2017 ITU World Triathlon Montréal
1st – 2017 ITU World Triathlon Stockholm
5th – 2017 ITU World Triathlon Grand Final Rotterdam
6th – 2017 World Triathlon Series
2018 – The “worst” one yet
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.
7th – 2018 ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi
7th – 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games
2nd – 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games Mixed Relay
2nd – 2018 ITU World Triathlon Mixed Relay Series Nottingham
DNF – 2018 ITU World Triathlon Leeds
4th – 2018 ITU World Triathlon Hamburg
4th – 2018 Hamburg ITU Triathlon Mixed Relay World Championships
5th – 2018 ITU World Triathlon Edmonton
6th – 2018 ITU World Triathlon Mixed Relay Series Edmonton Mixed Relay
2nd – 2018 Lausanne ITU Triathlon World Cup
8th – 2018 ITU World Triathlon Grand Final Gold Coast
11th – World Triathlon Series
2019 – A mixed bag
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.
11th – 2019 MS Amlin World Triathlon Bermuda
35th – 2019 AJ Bell World Triathlon Leeds
DNF – 2019 Hamburg Wasser World Triathlon
10th – 2019 Hamburg ITU Triathlon Mixed Relay World Championships
1st – 2019 ITU World Triathlon Edmonton
2nd – 2019 ITU World Triathlon Mixed Relay Series Edmonton
5th – 2019 Tokyo ITU World Triathlon Olympic Qualification Event
8th – 2019 ITU World Triathlon Grand Final Lausanne
15th – World Triathlon Series
2020 – The year the earth stood still
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.
31st – 2020 Hamburg Wasser World Triathlon
2021 – Completing the Olympics
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 double Olympian running in for fifth, with Yee taking silver, in what could well be his last ever Games. 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.
1st – 2021 World Triathlon Cup Arzachena
5th – Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games
1st – Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Mixed Relay
To be continued…
Top image: Getty Images