World No 1 triathlete Alistair Brownlee has come second in our search for the Sports Performer of 2011. Nick Westby reports
Not even on Christmas Day will Alistair Brownlee allow himself a day’s rest.
A light run is scheduled somewhere between the unwrapping of presents and the Christmas turkey.
Daley Thompson famously trained three times on December 25 because he knew it would give him an advantage over rivals who had their feet up.
Brownlee does not require the same intensity 365 days a year.
For the Yorkshireman has the world of triathlon in his pocket.
World champion in 2009, European champion in 2010, he went and won both titles in an honour-laden 2011.
Thompson is famous for winning two Olympic gold medals in the decathlon in the 1980s.
Brownlee, 23, has fame at his fingertips. He is the overwhelming favourite to win triathlon gold at next summer’s London Games.
That his closest challenger is his younger brother Jonny, gives him an extra edge over the best triathletes in the world.
For Spain’s Javier Gomez and the rest of the triathlon elite do not know whether to treat the Leeds brothers as individuals or as a team.
Either way, the Brownlees are set to write one of the great chapters of next year’s Olympic story.
Brothers in arms going for gold in the mother of all endurance sports. It could be unbeatable.
If 2011 has been a breakthrough year for Jonny, for Alistair it has been a season when he rubber-stamped his status as the world’s best.
Four wins around the globe in the World Series, including one preliminary victory over the Olympic course in Hyde Park, saw him regain his world title at a canter.
What was remarkable about the manner of how he regained his European title in June was that he suffered a puncture midway through the cycle race.
Having kept on the tail of the leaders in the swim before taking up the reins in the cycle race, the puncture, while inopportune, did at least present him with the chance to show his phenomenal drive and strength of mind.
Brownlee lost two minutes to the leading cyclists while he repaired his tyre, but within two laps of the technical misfortune he had taken 30 seconds out of the lead group.
He owed his brother Jonny a debt of gratitude for the 21-year-old’s self-sacrifice, slowing the leaders and keeping his chances of victory alive.
“I had great support from the team,” Alistair said. “Jonny did some blocking. I’m sure he would have won (the title) if he hadn’t.”
The gap was half a minute by the time of the final transition into the run, which is both brothers’ strongest discipline.
Alistair was a fell and cross-country runner in his youth, winning county titles and finishing second in junior national championships in the latter. The hard yards over the rugged, unpredictable terrain of Yorkshire have stood him in good stead in triathlon.
He won the European title by seven seconds from Jonny and a further minute from the rest of the pack.
Alistair’s astute knowledge of triathlon tactics – the need to control chases or lead from the front – derives from his academic acumen.
Always a gifted sportsman, Alistair Brownlee is also a highly-intelligent young man.
The son of a doctor, he read medicine at Girton College, University of Cambridge, in 2006 before putting his studies on hold to return home to Leeds to chase sporting accolades.
He gained a degree in physiology and sport from the University of Leeds in 2009 and even now, around a 35-hour-a-week training regime, he is reading for a masters degree in finance at Leeds Metropolitan University.
It is a wonder he finds the time.
But as if being athletic and academic were not enough, Alistair is also articulate and approachable.
He has dealt with the rapid increase of interest in his achievements in an Olympic year with humility and understanding.
Being the best in the world at a chosen profession requires statesman-like qualities, even from a young man.
He has to be a role model, an ambassador, a spokesman – and is adept at them all.
He speaks as comfortably to children on school visits around the county as he does to a gaggle of media about the need to grow his beloved sport.
Not that triathlon is struggling. The multi-endurance test is a sport on an upward trajectory, because as Alistair points out, most people can either swim, run or ride a bike.
Participation numbers are soaring, particularly among young professionals.
And with Alistair the face of the sport, in a year when the Olympics are held in this country, it is only going to improve.
He is pushing the boundaries of his sport.
There are challenges on the horizon for Alistair Brownlee.
How will he greet the massive expectation placed on him by himself and external forces at London 2012?
Can he shoulder the burden as the poster boy of his beloved sport?
Will the emergence of his younger brother threaten his dominance?
The latter is a storyline that will be followed with fascination from all quarters.
Siblings can be inspirational figures to one another.
Alistair has said in the past that if he sees his brother and house-mate get out of bed before him to go training, he is compelled to follow suit.
The Brownlees are a formidable double act in the world of triathlon; where one treads, the other follows.
But if Jonny at some stage turns the tables and gets the better of Alistair, it will be interesting to see how, and if, the dynamic changes.
Like all good sportsmen, Alistair Brownlee would doubtless greet the challenge from his sibling with relish, and respond in kind by redoubling his own efforts in training, where the base of such stamina for a triathlete is built.
He may even add in another session after the Christmas Day turkey and before the Queen’s speech.
Whatever the future holds there is no doubt the present is paved with gold for Alistair Brownlee.
He has had a remarkable 2011 and of all the accolades, this proud Yorkshireman will be thrilled to have been recognised by the people of his county in our search for the Sports Performer of the Year.