Growth spurt is down to dominant brothers

Alistair Brownlee, right, and Jonny Brownlee have had a huge impact in the growth of their sport (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire).
Alistair Brownlee, right, and Jonny Brownlee have had a huge impact in the growth of their sport (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire).
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The relentless growth of triathlon as a mass participation sport will get another shot in the arm today when the Brownlee brothers and the best of the rest compete in the team event at Glasgow 2014.

Yorkshire brothers Alistair and Jonny race alongside each other and two other English competitors including Vicky Holland, their training partner in Leeds, as they bid for yet more glory in a sport they have not only dominated, but elevated.

Their gold and silver-medal winning performances on day one of the Commonwealth Games on Thursday was the second time the sport has been broadcast to a mass audience on terrestrial television.

And with the team event coming immediately on the back of another golden day for Alistair Brownlee, the sport of triathlon is set to continue its exponential expansion.

At local level, Leeds and Bradford Triathlon Club have witnessed first hand the impact the Brownlees have had on their sport.

Founded in the mid-Nineties by Jack Maitland, the Brownlees’ coach, the Leeds and Bradford club now stands at a membership of nearly 500.

Running on the same roads as the brothers and the British squad as they head out of the city and into the countryside, club members can also swim alongside world champion Non Stanford and Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Vicky Holland in swimming sessions at John Charles Aquatics Centre every Wednesday morning.

“We actually have three lanes to their two on a Wednesday morning,” says Tom Pratt, the vice chairman of Leeds and Bradford Triathlon Club.

“The members of the British squad are fantastic with us amateurs and it’s great that Leeds has become a bit of a hub with people like Non Stanford, Vicky Holland and Lucy Hall moving to the area.

“The success of the Brownlee brothers is driving people to the city and to the club.

“There’s no denying that they have drawn a large number of people into the sport.

“And because of that there’s a lot of demand for races in this area.”

The big annual event that Leeds and Bradford put on is the Ilkley Triathlon, which this year takes place on Sunday, September 21.

Ten years ago that race was won by Alistair for the second year in succession, while the man to follow him onto the top step of the podium 12 months later was – you guessed it – Jonny Brownlee.

A decade on the proud Yorkshire brothers still support the event.

“We have the advantage of Jonny and Alistair coming to events like the Ilkley Triathlon to give out awards and prizes,” continues Pratt. “They’re not like footballers – they’re happy to come out and help promote the sport they love.

“It’s good that we’ve got those links because it just boosts the club further.”

There may be a ceiling though, to this rapid development.

Money, time and locations soon become an issue when Leeds and Bradford look to broaden their horizons.

“There’s a limit to participation because there is a limit to some sessions we can get, like pool sessions for instance,” adds Pratt.

“We are trying to get more young people involved but that requires hiring more coaches.

“The youth and junior sections are growing, though.

“Kids see what the Brownlees are doing and they want to emulate that.

“And that’s our aim, to get more young people involved in triathlon.”

The England team that contest the inaugural team event today will only enhance the sport’s appeal.

The relay, which comprises two women and two men each completing a mini-triathlon in turn, is in the programme at a major Games for the first time.

Each competitor in the relay completes a 250m swim, 6km bike and 1.6km run, with the first three tagging their team-mate before the final athlete races to the finish.

Even then, Alistair and Jonny reveal they will still be competing against each other.

“We still get competitive about who gets the fastest relay time,” says Alistair.

“Jonny beat me in Hamburg because of the situation in the race. He was just doing a time trial as fast as he could whereas I was racing. And my bit was a bit longer.”

Jonny adds: “First and foremost is the race itself. If the race goes a certain way I’m not going to be pushing it on just to try to beat Alistair’s time. I’m going to be thinking about the race.

“Relays are great to race – it’s fast and furious, it changes so quickly and it’s exciting to be part of. We don’t get to race as a team that much so I enjoy that.”