Duel in the pool has taken a new meaning this year for Doncaster swimmers Max and Joe Litchfield.
Having been separated by three years in the junior ranks, the brothers have started going head to head against each other in the senior competition – sparking a quiet rivalry which could dawn a new era in British swimming.
If they are saying we are as good as the Brownlee brothers – which we are not by any stretch of the imagination – then it can only be a good thing.Max Litchfield
Over the coming week, the pair will be battling it out for a first time at the British Swimming Championships in the familiar setting of their Ponds Forge training base in Sheffield.
Older brother Max still holds the sway of power, having burst onto the international scene last year when finishing fourth in the 400m individual medley at the Rio Olympic Games.
But he is well aware of the new kid on the block.
Joe, three-and-a-half years the younger, had his own breakthrough year last year when he stormed to gold at the European Junior Championship on his 18th birthday.
It was a victory that gave the younger brother a slice of one-upmanship, as Max had only won silver three years previous.
“I am always trying not to get beat by him and he’s trying to beat me so there’s always that toing and froing,” said Max, who went on to win gold at the 2013 world junior champion.
Joe added: “I’m getting closer and closer.
“Hopefully, that will be reduced in the next few years and the rivalry will get closer.
“But I’m sure it will only ever be a friendly rivalry.”
Of course, such a ‘friendly’ sibling rivalry is nothing new in Yorkshire.
The Brownlee brothers have set the example of a family duel being played out in front of the world’s eyes – and the similarities have already been drawn.
“It’s been thrown around a few times,” added Max.
“At the end of the day, it’s a compliment. If they are saying we are as good as the Brownlee brothers – which we are not by any stretch of the imagination – then it can only be a good thing.”
The brothers’ career in the pool started at Doncaster Dartes, however the promise of a future champion was not always evident.
“When I was younger I was close to being stopped because I was swimming in circles,” Joe joked.
“It was only when I was taken to the club that I started to improve. But we were never pushed to swim by our parents. It was never a case of ‘if you don’t swim, you’ll not get your dinner’.”
The duo rarely competed against each other at junior level due to their age difference.
But since Joe’s move to university in Sheffield last September, they are back training together on a daily basis and competing, too.
In a recent Pro Swim Series meet in the United States, Max pipped Joe to bronze in the 400m individual medley, which combines all four swimming disciplines.
They will come up against each other in three events (200m freestyle, 200m individual medley and 400m individual medley) at the British Championships, which will double as selection trials for July’s World Championships in Budapest, while Max will also go for gold in the 400m freestyle.
Max has set his seasonal goal at another appearance on the world stage but he has also taken responsibility in helping Joe to prepare.
Max said: “We are both very quiet and calm before races: there is no kind of heat going on, it’s not like hitting each other or fighting each other before we get in the pool.
“We just get in there, do our own thing. We get out, we give each other a ‘well done’ and get on with it really, and then you are back to being brothers again.
“But when you are in the pool you are there to try to beat each other and everyone else, and Joe is someone I have got to beat and I am someone he’s got to beat.”