Tom Richmond: A happy Brownlee Day to all in the Broad Acres

Alistair Brownlee
Alistair Brownlee
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TO some white rose diehards, Yorkshire Day does not go far enough. They’d like to see the compulsory wearing of flat caps before an afternoon of whippet racing followed by a raucous rendition of On Ilkley Moor baht ’at over a pint of bitter and an evening which pays fulsome homage to (Sir) Geoffrey Boycott. For many, these are the characteristics that have seen the Broad Acres come to be regarded as God’s own county.

To me, they’re outdated and unhelpful stereotypes which detract from the endeavour of a younger generation, epitomised by the incomparable Brownlee brothers, whose deeds have come to represent the very best of Yorkshire during the formative years of the 21st century – pride in the county of their birth, a winning mentality and a lifelong love of the great outdoors. Who could want more from life?

Perhaps the whole county would be better off if August 1 – Yorkshire Day – became officially known as Brownlee Day and people were encouraged to take up swimming, cycling and running, the triathlon’s three disciplines, to honour the incredible legacy still being created by Alistair and his younger brother Jonny as their exploits, and sportsmanship, continue to fire the public’s imagination.

For this, and the feelgood factor which emanated from the successful staging of the Tour de France’s Grand Départ last month, is the type of positive image which the county needs to portray in abundance if it is to rebuff those outdated souls in Westminster and elsewhere who believe – erroneously – that Yorkshire is home to a generation of curmudgeons and full-time members of the awkward squad.

Of course, I’m being slightly facetious. Just watching the Brownlees in full flight, whether it be at the Olympic Games two golden summers ago or the Commonwealth Games more recently when they were totally remorseless in the individual and team competitions, is exhausting enough for those who of us who are not born athletes. It was a privilege to watch history in action as Alistair joined an elite list of British sporting greats to complete the clean sweep and win Olympic, World, European and Commonwealth titles.

Yes, it helps that the brothers are the masters of their trade – but their impact (and friendly rivalry) needs placing in wider context. The triathlon would not be Britain’s fastest growing sport without the Brownlees, and the other GB competitors, who train with them in Leeds. It is now mainstream (it is one of the few events which the BBC deign to cover throughout the year) and the Brownlees need no introduction unlike so many medal-winners at the Commonwealth Games.

Stardom has not fazed them – they’re the same two brothers I spent the morning with in 2010 when they discussed whether they could operate on a team basis in the triathlon before arguing over the outcome of the previous evening’s game of Monopoly.

They’re not interested in finishing second – but they’re not arrogant. Yorkshire could not ask for two finer role models. Unlike politicians, they can engage with mere mortals.

They’re also philosophical when hit by injury – or have been beaten by a better competitor on the day. They don’t blame others – Formula One’s chief moaner Lewis Hamilton could learn some lessons in diplomacy here – and the elder Brownlee (Alistair) was gently ribbed when a lightning-quick changeover nearly jeopardised England’s runaway win in the triathlon team event at the Commonwealth Games. He took it in good humour, though.

Growing up in Leeds and attending Bradford Grammar School, their family encouraged them to explore Yorkshire. The brothers were not mollycoddled like so many youngsters of today who regard their parents as full-time taxi drivers. They would cycle or run everywhere. They’ve not come to harm. Tales from these adventures have grown with time – Alistair, now 26, stopping off in the middle of nowhere for a coffee with a couple of old school chums he had met and then dashing off five minutes later when he spotted a runner on the horizon. He was in the middle of a race. Or the occasion he went cycling with friends at a sedate pace that enabled him to prop up his A-level revision notes on his bicycle’s handlebars. You couldn’t make it up.

Yet it was the images of Alistair’s celebration at the Commonwealth Games which showed why he, and his brother, are such great ambassadors for their county. He was so far ahead he had time to slow and shake hands with wellwishers – they’ll never forget the moment – before draping himself in the Yorkshire flag (and also the cross of St George) and sauntering over the finish line to watch an exhausted Jonny, 24, finish second. “It wasn’t planned, that celebration,” said the gold medal winner, “Well, I suppose it was planned in that I wasn’t going to pick up a Scottish flag, was I?”

With white rose flags outnumbering the Saltires being waved, the winning moment simply showed how the Brownlees continue to bring out the best in Yorkshire – and vice versa

They’re that special. Unlike a certain cricketer who has been known to introduce himself as “Geoffrey Boycott, Yorkshire and England”, they are household names who are leading by example on every day of every year.


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