Keith Brownlee on his sons Alistair and Jonny’s Olympic triathlon success: “They’d compete to empty the dishwasher”

The boys' competitive spirit was there from an early age...

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The father of Olympic gold medalist Alistair and his bronze medal-winning brother Jonny reveals where their championship spirit came from ahead of Rio 2016.

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Were they always running around outside?

The boys were very outdoorsy, from a very young age — Alistair in particular. My wife Kathy and 
I used to walk around with him pointing forward in the papoose so he was constantly kept entertained. As they grew up they’d spend hours and hours walking in the Yorkshire Dales and swimming in the rivers and lakes in North Yorkshire. They would go off for long bike rides. We often wouldn’t know where they were or when they were coming back! 

Were they always super competitive?

Oh, over absolutely everything. From Monopoly and chess to emptying the dishwasher or taking the clothes off the washing line. 

Do they support each other?

They are massively proud of each other, very supportive. They race in a very similar kind of way and because of the nature of triathlon they can help each other. But once it comes down to the run, and particularly the last section of the run, it’s full-on competition. And that’s a bit nerve-racking, because clearly you don’t want them to do any harm to each other.

Do you think having each other makes them better athletes?

Yes, definitely. From the training perspective — they train together — the motivation is there. If they don’t feel like training one day they know their brother will be, so they have to motivate themselves.

Where does the boys’ athleticism come from?

Kathy used to swim competitively, and I used to a run a bit for my school at county level, but it wasn’t my running that got them interested, it was their school. Every Saturday they used to go and compete and they really enjoyed that. Jonny was always better at team sports, with Alistair focused on solo sports — triathlon started as his hobby.

And did Jonny look at Alistair and think, “If he’s doing it, maybe I can too”?

Definitely. He’ll even say that. He was into football, cricket and that kind of thing, but Alistair was coming home with England kit and GB kit, travelling to New Zealand and Japan and attending training camps all over the place and Jonathan thought, “I can do that.”

Are you used to the idea that they’re among the best athletes in the world?

I’m not at all used to it! It’s a very odd feeling indeed. They come around for dinner on Sunday and they’re just the same Alistair and Jonathan who always come around. And then you see them on TV and there’s a sort of disconnect.

How do you feel when you watch them?

Fantastically proud but also anxious. Flying around on those hills at ridiculously fast speeds wearing a bit of Lycra. I’ll be glad when they’re off the bike and even happier when they’re across that finish line.

Keith Brownlee was a paediatrician for 30 years and now works for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust. He and his wife Kathy, a GP, live in Leeds


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The men’s triathlon is on Thursday 18th August

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