The sight of Alistair Brownlee jogging around his home city last summer, his face contorted with pain and an acceptance that he was no longer good enough, jarred with everything we had come to revel in about this remarkable athlete.
For the Yorkshireman who had won two Olympic triathlon titles and had dominated his sport for a decade, suddenly looked every day of his 30 years, and for the first time – to the naked eye at least – looked beatable.
The World Triathlon Series Leeds event last June had the feel of an era-ending race as not just Alistair but younger brother Jonny struggled on home roads.
Younger men tore off into the distance as the Brownlees – backed to the very end by a knowledgable crowd that will never forget all they have done for the sport and their city – cheered them on through sheer bloodymindedness and sympathy.
Even in the wake of defeat, Alistair Brownlee conceded to The Yorkshire Post that he would have to go away and contemplate retirement.
Six months on, that thought has been contemplated and put on hold for one more year at least. Not just any old year, either, Olympic year. The event that draws the best out of the very best like no other. The mountain top that defines careers.
Alistair Brownlee, having scaled it twice already, is back for one last shot.
“The 12-year-old me dreamed of going to one Olympics. So to pass up the chance of just seeing where it leads me this year would be a bit mad,” said Brownlee, in an announcement about his future.
How British sport, how Yorkshire sport, should rejoice that one of its gold-standard elite should be back in the Olympic cauldron.
In fact, let us start the campaign now – Alistair Brownlee for Team GB flag-bearer at the opening ceremony in Tokyo on Friday, July 24.
He has already done it once for the Commonwealth Games.
There is no better role model for athletes than this superhuman who has blazed a trail in triathlon, transforming it in the public eye from a punishing, niche training regime to a fun, community event that nearly anyone can do.
He has had a training centre named after him in his home city, one that acts as a beacon for amateur and professional triathletes the world over.
Most athletes in his shoes would be coming back to win and do not for a second think Brownlee’s desire to claim a hat-trick of gold medals will not burn brightly.
However, he is returning because he believes he can help a British athlete onto the podium, whether that is him or someone else.
“In my head, the perfect scenario is that I’m in a position where I’m stood on the start-line and I think I can win the race,” he said.
“But, if I’m instead thinking I can scrape a third here, or I’m thinking I could help another British athlete win a medal, I would be happy with that. I really would.”
How poignant would it be if that British team-mate were Jonny; a bronze-medallist behind Alistair in London, and silver medallist four years later. Forever in his brother’s shadows, how thrilling if that final Brownlee chapter saw Alistair sacrificing himself on the front of the bunch to put Jonny into position for gold?
That would be some book-end to a fabulous career.
Not that this one last hurrah in Olympic competition will be the last we see of him. Just hours after the announcement of him contesting the triathlon, came news that Alistair had been nominated by the British Olympic Association as a candidate for the International Olympic Committee’s Athletes’ Commission.
Brownlee is one of 30 candidates who will face a vote of their fellow athletes at Tokyo 2020 for the duration of the Games in July and August. If successful, Brownlee will act as an athlete representative during high-profile IOC forums.
The 31-year-old said: “It is an enormous honour to be nominated. As a 17-year-old schoolboy, I vividly recall being told by the headmaster that London had won the bid to hold the 2012 Olympic Games.
“Since then the inspirational effect of the Games has given me two of the best days of my life and over a decade competing in the sport I love.
“I feel I am a true product of the Olympic movement and would relish the opportunity to repay my gratitude by helping and representing other athletes.”
Get him on that council. There is no better role model for British sport, and no better ambassador to represent the interests of the athletes in these difficult times for the sport.
Could this be the start of a Seb Coe-type move into sports administartion? There are few brighter minds.
One for the future, but for now let us enjoy one last ride with Alistair Brownlee.
Da te for your diary – Sunday, June 7, the World Triathlon Series, Leeds.
Do not expect either Brownlee to be jogging again.