Born and bred in Leeds, UK, Alistair Brownlee is a proud Yorkshireman who has gone on to become a double Olympic triathlon champion.
There are few triathletes with a more clear and distinctive style of racing – ultra competitive in short. Throughout Alistair’s dominance of short-course triathlon, if he was on the start line everyone else knew they were in for a tough race. In fact, often Alistair’s greatest foe has been his own body’s limitations and injuries.
Invariably he would be at the pointy end of the swim, often just behind Slovakian uber-swimmer (and regular training partner) Richard Varga; onto the bike, he and his brother Jonny Brownlee would be smashing the field to create a breakaway while often visibly barking orders at his/their breakaway companions; and once out of T2 he had a reputation of being able to run incredibly swiftly off of a hard bike.
In short, in a one-off race if all the athletes turned up in their best shape, you’d have been crazy to bet against Alistair.
Brownlee’s success, attributes, and interests are not limited to triathlon. Before Alex Yee took what was considered a fast-running triathlete to a new level (he won the British 2018 10,000 track title in 27:51.94), following his success at London 2012 Alistair had stated his intentions to challenge himself in pure running races, specifically the Glasgow Commonwealth Games 10,000m.
Brownlee has some impressive run pedigree having been 2006 English Schools Cross-Country Champion, but despite running 28:32.48 in 2013 he did not manage to achieve the required B standard of 28:10 to compete in Glasgow.
In addition to his sporting prowess, Alistair is also gifted academically. He started a degree in medicine at Cambridge University before switching to the University of Leeds to study Sports Science and Physiology.
Brownlee has also had two books published with the first being the popular ‘Swim, Bike, Run: Our Triathlon Story’, crafted with Jonny and as the name suggests detailing the brothers’ rise to the top of the sport. Then in 2021 he released ‘Relentless’, which looks into what defines or makes ‘sporting greatness’ through interviews with stars from a number of different sports.
Alistair gives the impression of a man driven by success in all parts of his life. For example, in October 2020 it was announced that he joined INCUS Performance as an investor and strategic adviser, and in October 2021 he was elected to the European Olympic Committee’s Athletes’ Commission.
However, he is much more than that and shortly after his London 2012 success he and Johnny launched the Brownlee Foundation charity which aims to inspire children of all backgrounds to enjoy and benefit from sport.
Career record and results
Quite simply Alistair Brownlee (along with his brother Jonny) raised the bar for what was expected of British triathletes (no, all triathletes) astronomically – not ignoring, the phenomenal long-course success of Chrissie Wellington.
Yes, before Alistair truly landed on the global stage Britain had boasted short-course World Champions – such as Simon Lessing, Spencer Smith, Leanda Cave, Helen Jenkins, and Tim Don. However, the number of victories and the way Alistair dominated races at the top echelon of the sport was unprecedented. His very special era in that discipline included:
- Two Olympic gold medals; ITU individual World titles in 2009 and 2011
- ITU mixed-team relay World titles in 2011 and 2014
- European individual champion in 2010, 2011, 2014, and 2019
- 2014 Commonwealth gold medals (individual and relay)
- A staggering number of individual race victories including iconic races like Kitzbuhel 2014, Edmonton 2014, and Leeds in both 2016 and 2017
Also, by winning the ITU World title in 2009 Alistair became the first person to have won ITU World Championships as a Junior, an Under-23, and a Senior.
Alistair’s Olympic-distance racing has been more sporadic since Rio 2016. He dipped his toe into middle-distance racing in 2017, winning IRONMAN 70.3 St. George and Challenge Gran Canaria, and he had successive second places at the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship in 2018 and 2019.
He stepped up to full distance in 2019, taking the tape at IRONMAN Ireland (with a cancelled swim) and then finishing in a blistering 7:45:20 at IRONMAN Western Australia. He made his debut at the ‘Big Island’ in 2019, finishing in 21st place after fading from 3rd at the start of the run. The big question is what can he achieve now he is fully focused on long-course triathlon?
The answer to that in early 2022 was an incredibly frustrating “not much” as first he was forced to pull out of the delayed 2021 IRONMAN World Championship in St George due to illness. Just four weeks later he had to withdraw from the much-hyped Sub7Sub8 Project with a hip issue.
After reminding his feet and taking a dominant victory at IRONMAN 70.3 Swansea, Brownlee’s time seemed to have finally come in IRONMAN racing, as he blew the field away in IRONMAN Sweden to win in 7:38:47 and put himself in serious contention for the IRONMAN World Championships title.
Unfortunately, injury struck again, with a stress fracture in his femur keeping him out of the PTO US Open and the IRONMAN World Championships for the second time in 2022.
In 2023, Brownlee is set to begin his season at IRONMAN South Africa.
Double Olympic champion
Alistair is a three-time Olympian and two-time Olympic Gold medalist. At the age of 20 he represented Great Britain at Beijing 2008, and the manner of his performance (rather than just the result – he finished 12th) gave a strong indication of future success.
The saying goes that getting to the top is easy, staying there is tougher. If that’s the case, winning gold in Rio 2016 must have been quite the challenge.
Before that, the pressure on Alistair’s shoulders at London 2012 was immense. He was a poster boy of his home Olympics and was the hottest of hot favourites (despite genuine challenges from his brother and Spaniard Javier Gomez amongst others). So much so that British Triathlon adopted a somewhat controversial selection policy. Rather than selecting the three highest-ranking athletes, the tactical decision was to use a ‘domestique’ which could push the swim and keep the pace high on the bike to ensure favourable conditions for Alistair (and Jonny) come the run in Hyde Park.
It’s hard to argue with that decision – after all it worked! Alistair ran a staggering 29.07 10k to take gold ahead of long-time rival Gomez, with Jonny taking bronze.
Gold-medal success will have brought with it many opportunities, and for some it may have been easy to rest on one’s laurels, but Alistair sought to achieve what no other triathlete had done to date – win two triathlon Olympic gold medals (Canadian Simon Whitfield came close with a gold in Sydney and silver in Beijing, and Nicola Spirig almost matched Simon with a gold in London and silver in Rio).
Brazil provided a very different course to the flat London route, with a big hill expected to be a huge factor on the bike. In the end, Alistair and Jonny duked it out on the run before Alistair ran clear to victory.
Unfortunately, the three-peat and a victory at Tokyo 2020 was not to be. Alistair gave his best to qualify for his fourth Games, but his chances were hindered by an injured ankle and the fact that Great Britain had only obtained two slots for the individual race in Tokyo. In the end, Alistair’s DNF at the WTCS in Leeds (along with Alex Yee’s breakout performance) removed the need for any potentially difficult selection decisions to be made.
Sub7 bid derailed
Excelling at draft-legal Olympic and sprint-distance triathlon to the extent that Alistair has means you are an exceptional athlete. However, it doesn’t mean success at half and iron-distance on the world stage is a given. Having said that, Alistair has already achieved notable success as mentioned above.
Such success, and no doubt being a double Olympic gold medallist, saw Brownlee selected (along with Kristian Blummenfelt, Tokyo 2020 gold medallist) to take on the Pho3nix Sub7 project.
With a similar concept of human physical endeavour and breaking boundaries to the INEOS 1:59 Challenge (where runner Eliud Kipchoge broke two hours for the marathon with optimised equipment and surroundings), scheduled for summer 2022, the aim was to see whether it is possible to break seven hours for a full-iron distance event (3.8km swim/180km bike/42km run).
Unfortunately he was ruled out in the week before the event by a hip injury – being replaced by fellow Brit Joe Skipper, who would go on to post a terrific 6:47:36.
The Brownlee Brothers Effect
Alistair and younger brother Jonny come from an active family. Father Keith was a runner and mother Cathy a swimmer, with the youngest sibling Edward preferring rugby. Alistair was introduced to triathlon by his uncle, and the resulting impact on the sport in Britain and farther afield has been substantial.
Despite the numerous victories, charity work, and other ventures, that have undoubtedly inspired thousands, it is the brotherly love shown in Cozumel in 2016 which saw the Brownlees and triathlon go viral in mainstream media. Jonny was on course to win the World Championships, but close to the finish in sweltering temperatures disaster struck. In a worrying scene his legs began to give way and he looked on the verge of collapsing, only for Alistair to catch him and almost carry him to the line.
The staggering and inspirational image was shown repeatedly around the world and with it became triathlon legend (almost as iconic as Julie Moss in 1982, and Sian Welch and Wendy Ingraham in 1997, both memorable IRONMAN World Championship moments). Also, in part, it possibly helped Alistair claim second in the 2016 BBC Sports Personality Of The Year (SPOTY) Awards – alongside a second Olympic gold medal, of course!
Alistair Brownlee gear
Many of Alistair’s sponsors have supported him from the early parts of his elite career.
The Brownlee brothers have a close link with Derby-based brand HUUB. Launched in 2011, to an extent HUUB has grown with the Brownlees and offers a range of Brownlee-branded equipment (including wetsuits and goggles). For his long-course races Alistair has been spotted wearing what appears to be a bespoke HUUB Anemoi trisuit with Adidas labels. When it comes to his run shoes, Alistair has been a long-time fan of Adidas.
However, Alistair did make a big change in bike sponsor at the start of 2022. After five years with SCOTT Bikes, the Brownlee brothers linked up with BMC.