The Young Guns - Jonathan Brownlee (GBR)

The Young Guns - Jonathan Brownlee (GBR)

By Masa Takaya on 09/02/11 at 7:09 pm

They’re fit, fast and they’ve all got youth on their side. In this series we profile some of ITU’s rising stars - a generation of talent set to challenge the established names on the international scene. This week’s Young Gun: Jonathan Brownlee.

Whoever’s job it is to dust the trophy cabinet in the Brownlee household must be getting tired. It was already getting crowded with Alistair’s exploits on the international circuit, and with Jonathan’s 2010 season adding more silverware to the collection, space is quickly running out. Additions to the haul by ‘Brothers Brownlee’ in 2011 are still unknown, but Jonathan has his eye on more gold this season. 

Last year was an excellent season for the 20-year old, claiming two world titles in the space of four weeks. First he took the inaugural ITU Triathlon World Sprint Championships in Lausanne, just nudging out fellow countryman Tim Don for gold. He then went onto Budapest to claim the ITU Triathlon Under23 World Championship title; just hours after big brother Alistair won the Grand Final race.  Jonathan preceded his 2010 success with a Junior European title, an Australian Youth Olympic Games gold and a Junior World Championship silver medal in 2009.

The race that may stick in many people’s minds however, is the head-to-head battle in London last year between the siblings. On that occasion Jonathan topped his brother, finishing in second place behind eventual World Champion Javier Gomez.  Alistair, meanwhile, struggling with exhaustion faded in the last 200 metres and collapsed over the finish line in tenth position.

One cannot wonder if this race might be a turning point in the career of young Brownlee. For the first time on the international stage he competed shoulder-to-shoulder with his brother and came on top. In the past ‘Johnny’ as he is more commonly known, has worked for Alistair and sacrificed his own race to ensure his brother had the best chance possible to win gold. This was seen at the Athlone European Championships last year, where Alistair claimed the European crown and his brother faded to 38th place after putting in a lot of work on the bike. However, in London the brothers showed some great teamwork, exiting the swim side-by-side and staying that way until the final stretch. This result could prove to be the boost of confidence that Johnny needed to show he can race with the best.

“It was a massive shock. It was way better than I have ever competed before. I am still shocked now. The day after I had to tell myself that it did actually happen,” said Johnny.

However, it might not be all smooth sailing for the youngster. Olympic qualification is a hot topic in 2011, and nowhere more so than in Great Britain. This could make 2011 a little harder for Jonathan as he may still have to qualify just to attend the qualification races with the high-level fields at the Dextro Energy Triathlon ITU World Championships Series races. Meanwhile Alistair will be able to concentrate on the Series and taper for the most important races. 

The question of pressure may also raise its head. While Alistair has had more time to acclimatise to the constant attention and expectations from the British media, there is the potential for Johnny to become a victim of his brother’s success and his own early victories. The brothers are already being openly touted as potential one-two at World Championship and Olympic level and this pressure can quickly mount.  However, Johnny exudes a cool and collected manner and his eyes are squarely set on qualifying for the Olympic Games on home soil. He seems acutely aware of the task’s size at hand.

“My aim is the same as everybody else’s and that is to qualify for the London 2012 Olympics. The British team is so strong at the moment and there are probably about ten athletes who can qualify and only three sports, but all you can do is turn up on the day and do your best,” said Johnny.

Interestingly Alistair had a stellar season the year after he won the U23 world title, claiming the 2009 Dextro Energy Triathlon ITU World Championship by winning all five races he entered.  That impressive string of wins is not something that may ever be repeated but if genetics stand for anything, then a peak in performance may be in store for Jonathan as well. 

And what about sibling rivalry? This is a question constantly pitched at the brothers in press conferences and interviews.  With a pair of world titles to your name, one would think Johnny would feel confident that at least he’s the best triathlete in his own house. Not so for Johnny.

“The rivalry in actual triathlon races is not that great. I think he is still better than me and that I should concentrate on the others rather than him,” said Johnny. 

The brothers regularly try to play down the matter; with older brother Alistair regularly stating that Johnny is superior to him at a similar age. There seems to be peace now in the Brownlee household but if Jonathan continues to improve and starts to regularly challenge his brother for the top honours, it remains to be seen how long that will last.

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