Just like four years ago in London, Alistair Brownlee grabbed a British flag, slowed to a trot and then walked across the finish line to win the gold medal in the men’s Olympic triathlon. He dropped to the ground in exhaustion again. Only this time, moments later he got celebrate with his little brother.
Jonathan Brownlee upgraded his bronze from 2012 to silver on Thursday. Plus, he didn’t need medical attention after finishing the race at a cloudless Copacabana Beach like he did after his run through Hyde Park, which delayed both his celebration and the medal ceremony.
The pair broke away halfway through the 10-kilometre run and Alistair Brownlee finished in 1 hour, 45 minutes, 1 second, ahead of his brother, who’s two years younger, by six seconds. They stayed on the ground for a long time, then embraced each other.
“That was a lot more emotional that I’ve ever been before,” the younger brother said. “In London, gold and bronze were incredible but it wasn’t gold and silver. And to achieve that ... you literally could do no better.” They had already hopped to their feet by the time Henri Schoeman of South Africa came in 42 seconds later for bronze.
Sibling rivalries aren’t usually played out like this on the Olympic stage, but it’s actually a moment they thought they might have a chance at four years ago. “It was flipping close in the end and then Javier Gomez Noya got between us,” Alistair Brownlee said. “Today I knew if it went right we could do it.”
The silver medallist at the London Games, however, wasn’t in the field after breaking his left arm two months ago while training for Rio, opening the way for this 1-2 finish by the Brownlee brothers.
Alistair Brownlee said he didn’t plan out the replica finish with the flag and the slowing down to a trot. He said he visualises everything else about the race, the one-loop ocean swim, the steep, hilly, 24-mile bike ride and the 6.2-mile run, but not the ending or the elation.
“I never allow myself to think about crossing the finish line,” he said. “You just do it.”
Ben Kanute of the U.S. got an up-close look at the Brownlees, staying with them coming out of the water and dismounting his bike before fading halfway through the grueling run and tottering across in 29th place.
“I put myself in a position to finish really well, but that was some of the hardest swimming and biking I’ve ever done,” Kanute said. “and I think by the time I hit 5K on the run, the fireworks just started and it was just trying to survive.”
Polluted waters were a major concern leading up to the Rio Games, but Alistair Brownlee said he had no complaints. “The water on the beach was absolutely fine,” he said, “and I’ve seen nothing to worry about.”
Except maybe Schoeman, who reached the podium for the first time in a major race and said come Tokyo in 2020 he might be able to hang with the Brownlee brothers. “Maybe in four years’ time, I’ll give them a go for that gold.”