Spotlight switches to Jonny as he goes for global title

Englands Alistair Brownlee (right) with his gold medal after winning the Men's Triathlon with brother Jonathan who won silver at Strathclyde Country Park during the 2014 Commonwealth Games near Glasgow.
Englands Alistair Brownlee (right) with his gold medal after winning the Men's Triathlon with brother Jonathan who won silver at Strathclyde Country Park during the 2014 Commonwealth Games near Glasgow.
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In the space of just seven days, Jonny Brownlee has earned the chance to give an emphatic answer to the question that stalks his career – can he beat his older brother?

The 24-year-old from Leeds goes into the final race of the 2014 World Series in Edmonton this weekend with the chance to win the global title for the second time in three years.

It would cap a remarkable spell for the young Yorkshireman, who has also won an Olympic bronze medal and a Commonwealth Games silver medal – as well as a team gold – in that time.

Yet when he holds up his medal haul alongside that of his brother, Alistair, the silvers and bronzes look comparatively worn at the side of the gleaming golds in the possession of the Olympic, double Commonwealth and two-time former world champion.

At two years his senior, Alistair has been the trailblazer in triathlon, not only in his own household, but in this country and the world over.

Jonny has clung to the back of his older brother’s vest and reaped vast rewards himself, but rarely the top prizes.

Jonny accepts that without Alistair, he would not have been as good a triathlete.

Yet in Edmonton this weekend, a victory allied with a failure to finish inside the top five for Javier Gomez, will go a long way to proving he is as close to being Alistair’s equal as ever before.

Because in Stockholm last weekend, Jonny won his first World Series event of the year – albeit over the shorter sprint distance – defeating Alistair in the process and closing the gap significantly on rankings leader Gomez, who failed to finish through illness.

Ahead of the final two legs of the eight-race World Series, Jonny admitted in an interview to promote next month’s Brownlee Triathlon at Harewood House, that he would need Gomez to fall off his bike in order for him to win the title.

“That’s not the way I want to become world champion,” said the younger sibling.

“Juan has beaten me lots of times, he’s won the first four races so if you look at it that way he’s a worthy world champion.”

A noble viewpoint. But in Stockholm, Jonny kicked open the window of opportunity.

“The way both Alistair and I will go into it is to target it as a one-day race, like a mini world championships, and, hopefully, I can do it on the day,” he added.

Alistair, who is sixth in the rankings and out of contention to add to the world titles he won in 2009 and 2011, is likely to run in support of Jonny tomorrow.

The competitive instincts may take over when the finish line comes into sight, but in principle, the Commonwealth champion has already turned his sights on preparing for the defence of his Olympic title in Rio in 2016.

So the spotlight shines on Jonny, and whether he can beat his brother for the first time over an Olympic distance triathlon, and regain the world crown.

“I wouldn’t say Alistair’s unbeatable, because no-one’s unbeatable,” said Jonny.

“But, at the same time, I see what Alistair does in training, so if he beats me in a session then I know there’s a good chance he will beat me in a race.

“Maybe if Alistair wasn’t here I’d have won more but, at the same time, I wouldn’t be as good because I would not have had someone to train with, someone to learn from. It’s kind of like the chicken and egg situation.”

Is there a way in which he can beat Alistair? “Good question, I suppose all I can do is consistent training,” he replied.

“I still get so much out of training with Alistair, we still train together 90 per cent of the time, and that’s one of the reasons why I wasn’t as good at the start of the year because I wasn’t training with him as much. When he came back I got much fitter because I could pace myself against Alistair.

“All I can do is keep on training and eventually age will slow him down and my years of consistent training will help.”

Whether he wins the world title or misses out this weekend, the World Series in 2015 is the primary goal for both brothers next year. Not only does it serve as a qualifier for the Olympics the following year, but it also marks out the world champion as the man to beat in Rio.

For Alistair, going into what will be his third Games as a world champion is a major incentive.

“It’s been too long since I was champion, so I’ve got to make sure I get my act together and have a good crack at it,” said Alistair, who has been bedevilled by injuries the last two years.

“The world series is tough. Rather than being right for one day as I planned to be for the Commonwealths, you have to be strong for lots of races.

“I may have the medals and titles but what motivates me still is the desire to turn up at a race with my A game, because if I don’t I’ll be beaten.”