Interview: Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee discuss childhood competitiveness

Brownlee Brothers
Brownlee Brothers
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Standing in the plush and sprawling gardens of Yorkshrie’s iconic Harewood House, Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee look calm and relaxed in familiar surroundings.

The brothers look completely at ease as they walk inside the house, happily discussing all things Yorkshire in their native county.

Ostensibly, I’m here to talk to them about the Brownlee Tri coming up at Harewood House on September 21.

But Leeds United, Bradford Bulls and Leeds Rhinos are just a few of the topics which crop up - and that’s even before Jonathan mentions that it’s Yorkshire Day, laughing and mentioning it’s also Swiss National Day.

And why wouldn’t the pair be feeling relaxed? They’re fresh after their triathlon success at this year’s Commonwealth Games where they finished comfortably ahead of the chasing pack in the top two medal positions.

However, as the interview begins, any notion of that relaxed approach transcending into their sporting life is quickly quashed by Alistair when a question about his motivation is posed.

He said: “You still have to turn up with your A game. You still have to turn up fit and so your motivated by turning up and training hard.

“In some ways this year has been good because the first few races I’ve done in Japan and then London, I turned up unfit and came fourth so that served me right.

“It still shows I need to be out there and train bloody hard to be on my A game at the end of the day and that’s motivation enough.”

Many would be forgiven for posing the question of how an Olympic, World and European gold medallist, and now the champion of the Commonwealth, continues to motivate himself.

However, the same question cannot be asked of Jonathan.

The younger brother, speaking in matter-of-fact Yorkshire, frankly admits he still has the motivation as, by his own high standards, he hasn’t won anything major yet.

After watching his older brother take gold ahead of his bronze at London 2012, then gold to his silver at the Commonwealths, Jonathan is realistic about his immediate chances of besting his brother.

He said: “He’s not unbeatable because no one is like that I don’t think. But at the same time it’s hard because I see what Alistair does in training sessions so I know he’s got a high chance of beating me.

“Whereas with other competitors, like Richard Murray of South Africa, I have no idea what time he does in sessions. It is a bit frustrating because if Alistair wasn’t here I might have won more.

“At the same time I wouldn’t be as good because I hadn’t had someone to train with and someone to learn with so it’s kind of a chicken and egg really.”

It is this pragmatic approach to their career that defines the Brownlee brothers and, indeed, their relationship.

Rather than focus on finishing second to Alistair, Jonathan concentrates on the benefits of training with a champion, with the aim of finally surpassing him still in his sights.

Jonathan said: “All I can do is consistent training. I get so much from training with Alistair, that’s one reason I wasn’t so good at the start of the year because Alistair was injured.

“When he came back, I had to get much, much fitter because in the individual sessions I pace myself off against Alistair. But definitely I’ll keep on training and hopefully age will slow him down and my years of consistent training will help.

“Alistair is the kind of person that if the coach tells you to run a certain time he will purposely run a bit faster than that so the session becomes a lot harder. Alistair definitely pushes those sessions.”

Despite their fierce competitiveness during the races, there is no evidence of it away from the action as they sit, relaxed, in front of the journalists.

The pair portray themselves as brothers, rather than rivals, even choosing to interview together and they admit they’ve learnt to control that rivalry.

Alistair said: “We might get competitive over stupid stuff but we’re very good now at switching it off.

“When we were young we used to compete over everything; board games, football in the garden, cricket in the garden but now you can’t use it all up. There’s only so much you can use up and if you use it up on stupid things then you can’t use it later when you actually need it so we don’t compete too much now.”

Whilst the brothers may not raise their tempers over a casual game of Cluedo, there is little doubt the rivalry will slowly re-ignite as they look ahead to Rio in 2016.

But, for now, the focus is on the Brownlee triathlon and enjoying an event being held so close to where the brothers grew up and now live.

Alistair said: “It’s really nice to host the triathlon here. Growing up I’ve got memories of coming here and playing. I probably run around here at least every week when I’m home. It’s fantastic that it’s only a 20- minute run from my house.

“It’s fantastic people doing triathlon and we’re both massive advocates of that. We really enjoy being outside and active, so it’s important that it’s in a nice area and somewhere that’s inspiring to be.”