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Brothers in arms are trendsetting

Those seeking to inspire the next generation through exposure to the most celebrated competitors at this Commonwealth Games will have no better opportunity than at Strathclyde Park this morning.

Jonny, left and Alistair - perm any one from two for the gold medal in this afternoon's men's triathlon . . . Picture: Nick Ponty
Jonny, left and Alistair - perm any one from two for the gold medal in this afternoon's men's triathlon . . . Picture: Nick Ponty

Entry is free as the Brownlee boys once again seek to live up to their billing as favourites to share the podium at a major Games. Barring injury, they surely will, albeit they are expected to bring home gold and silver this time around, Jonny having finished third behind Javier Gomez in London.

As is commensurate with being Olympic champion, Alistair, having declared himself free of the Achilles trouble that has plagued him since he took gold in London, is expected to have the upper hand. But regardless of which way round they finish, both he and little brother Jonny are entitled to be considered among the supermen of world sport.

To explain why, it is sufficient to know that while, for the vast majority of serious club runners, a sub-30 minute 10k run is no more than a pipe dream, Alistair beat that mark by almost a minute at the Olympics after having completed the 1500-metre swim and 40k bike ride. That he took around half a minute longer to complete it was hardly a mark of shame for Jonny.

Yet the newness of their sport is such that they readily acknowledge that even they do not really know what is achievable. "We're the first generation of people who started out as just triathletes," explains the younger man. "Before us, triathletes started as runners or swimmers then changed, so we're the first generation and I like to think that kids would start in triathlon now because you can do it from eight years old.

"There are lots of triathlon clubs you can join from eight years old. When we started triathlon, swimming clubs either thought you were a swimmer or you could get lost kind of thing. You couldn't be a triathlete.

"They weren't interested, they were only interested in swimming medals, whereas now swimming clubs are quite happy for triathletes to come along because they're beginning to understand that it's a good sport. It's an evolving sport, triathlon. I'm not sure anyone really understands it fully still. They're getting there."

Alistair agrees wholeheartedly, noting that their own introduction to the sport was hardly calculated.

"I went to triathlon first and then Jonny was dragged along to most of it," he laughed. "Being the younger brother he got pushed into it. We did swim and run first, but I did my first triathlon when I was eight, so that was pretty young to start."

It took some time, however, before it became clear that they were anything exceptional, as Alistair pointed out when asked how quickly they became aware of their capabilities. "Oh, not very quickly at all," he said. "To start off with I was doing well in local races, then national kids' races, but you don't really know.

"It wasn't until I was 18 that I think I really believed I could be good. I won the world junior championships when I was 18 and that was the big turning point for me. You know a little bit, but not a massive amount, so when I first went to the world junior championships in 2005 I came 40th or something . . . absolutely rubbish and then I went the year after and won.

"I didn't know at the time what I could do. I could probably watch a kid train now and be able to see how good they were going to be, but I didn't know anything at the time. It's a new sport. That's just the way it is and people have learned a lot over that time. People literally didn't know.

"I remember being told by the head coach at the time: 'You're not that talented, you're going to have to train hard or do things better than everyone else and that wasn't necessarily any fault of his, it's just that people didn't know about triathlon."

Perhaps it was just a ploy to get him to give his all but the unnamed coach can be in no doubt now regarding just how much talent Alistair Brownlee was born with.

However, his experience only serves to demonstrate the scale of the opportunity that presents itself to gifted all-rounders who are keen to pursue the ultimate Olympian challenge.

The opening event at Strathclyde Park this morning will be the women's individual triathlon in which, sadly - not least because it will be the first televised event at the Games - there will be no Scottish interest.

However, an added element for those watching the men's race will be that, as well as vying for a medal, David McNamee, Grant Sheldon and Marc Austin will be competing among themselves for the two places, along with Natalie Milne and Seonaid Thompson, in the line-up for Saturday's mixed relay event.

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