SPOTY 2016: Glory in Rio and compassion in Cozumel put Alistair Brownlee in frame
World No 1 tennis player Andy Murray is a red-hot 1-7 favourite after his Wimbledon and Olympic victories and rise to the top of the world order – and Brownlee is merely thrilled and somewhat surprised to make the list of contenders.
The honest Yorkshireman knows his brotherly helping hand to younger sibling Jonny in the ITU Triathlon Series in Mexico is largely responsible for his appearance. Nevertheless, Murray already looks to have one hand on the prestigious prize.
But Brownlee knows the same could be said of Hillary Clinton’s bid to sit in the White House and Great Britain’s prospects of staying in the European Union – with the Leeds man not abandoning hope of springing a shock.
Double Olympic triathlon champion Brownlee is one of 16 contenders hoping to be crowned BBC Sports Personality Of The Year at the Genting Arena in Birmingham tomorrow evening.
Five of the 16 fly the flag for Yorkshire with 28-year-old Brownlee joined by Leeds’s double Olympic boxing champion Nicola Adams, Leicester’s Sheffield-born Premier League champion Jamie Vardy, another Steel City ace in golf’s Masters winner Danny Willett and Leeds’s triple Paralympic medallist Kadeena Cox.
Laura Kenny, Mo Farah, Gareth Bale, Nick Skelton, Jason Kenny, Max Whitlock, Adam Peaty, Dame Sarah Storey, Kate Richardson-Walsh and Sophie Christiansen complete the list.
Somewhat to his surprise, Brownlee is rated the most likely threat to Murray as the clear 9-1 second favourite, yet still every inch the underdog.
But as Dewsbury-born Brownlee is all too aware, 2016 has been a year where there has been no such thing as a foregone conclusion.
“It’s a year of funny votes isn’t it?” laughed Brownlee. “I definitely feel like the underdog going into it so you never know.
“I feel very, very lucky to even be there to be honest and it’s a real honour to be talked about with some of these guys.
“To win it – I am not even really thinking about it. But of course it’s ridiculously special and it would mean a massive amount.
“ I am just going to go down, enjoy the event and see.”
Realistically, after Murray’s near perfect end to the year, the Leeds triathlete knows he is up against it.
And despite being rated as the biggest threat to Murray’s crown, Brownlee was surprised to even feature on the 16-strong shortlist.
There has, though, been more to Brownlee’s sporting year than merely winning Olympic gold, namely that moment when he put the health of his brother abovereverything else.
Juts a month after their gold and silver in Rio, Jonny was chasing the world title in Cozumel, Mexico, in the final round of the ITU World Series when heat exhaustion struck in the final moments of the race.
Alistair, rounding the final bend in third place, noticed his brother up ahead was staggering and out of control.
Without thinking, Alistair put his brother’s arm over his shoulder and dragged him along the final 100m – sacrificing his own chances of victory.
Jonny did not win the world title, but Alistair won the hearts of a nation with his act of compassion.
“I’m not going to let him forget it any time soon,” laughed Alistair.
“We have a laugh about it, but it’s good natured and what happened, happened.
“Although I feel like I have done well in my sport this year – and it’s been fantastic to achieve at the level I have – I am kind of very aware that I am up there because of the whole events in Mexico as well, which is interesting because you think the attention you receive should be kind of equivalent to your performance and not other things. It’s been quite an interesting thing to get my head around.
“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind for both of us really in terms of the interest it got and talking about it and I think that was tough at first.
“We kind of had to decide did we want to talk about it, but it’s just given us a platform to talk about triathlon and talk about activity and talk about getting kids active – all things that we are passionate about. On that front it has definitely been good.”
The effect of those events in Mexico will seem even more important should the triathlete spring a surprise tomorrow evening. For all that Brownlee has huge respect for Murray’s achievements, it is quadruple Olympic champion and long distance running king Farah who would earn the Leeds racer’s vote.
Brownlee said: “I would probably vote for Mo because, for me, his actual athletic achievement is just incredible.
“It’s not something that he’s the first Brit to do; he’s the first person ever to do what he has done and I think that is just amazing – the consistency across the time and everything is just really impressive.
“And for me it’s great even to be up there with some of these people in what is a massive year for British sport with an incredible long list of athletes on it.”