On a gloriously sunny morning, Jonny Brownlee stepped out of a shadow and into a golden glow. It has taken an awful lot of swimming, cycling and running to get to this point, but finally the little brother joined the family business of winning Olympic titles.
It wasn’t the sort of individual crown won twice by his elder sibling Alistair, but who cares? What a marvellous tale in a Games that has already thrown up its share.
Bronze at London 2012, silver in Rio de Janeiro four years later, and here the succession dream appeared to be done when he was fifth in the individual. But back he stormed in the team relay on Saturday morning, part of a fabulous four with Jess Learmonth, Georgia Taylor-Brown and Alex Yee.
Team GB won gold in the mixed triathlon relay after a superb effort from Alex Yee in Tokyo
With Yee and Taylor-Brown having won silver medals across the past week, they were always favourites to hit the top step, and after Brownlee broke from the pack on his run, there were only sporadic moments late on when the gold felt at risk.
Brief moments. Irrelevant moments. When it was all done, with Yee concluding the final run with 14 seconds of daylight to the Americans in silver, Brownlee was the first to wrap him in a hug.
At 31, Brownlee will now call it a day at this level of competition. A brilliant finale and one of the most heartening sights of these Olympics.
Brownlee said: ‘Olympics? Completed it. It feels absolutely amazing. It’s my third Olympics and I’ve finally got gold.’
He ensured Britain’s team of Jonny Brownlee (L), Jessica Learmonth (C) and Georgia Taylor-Brown (R) won by 14 seconds ahead of the USA
This was a collective triumph, one built on the platform of Learmonth’s brilliant swim, and secured through excellent runs by each of Brownlee, Taylor-Brown and Yee. But it is impossible not to hone in on the individual, on the guy for whom this day almost never came.
No one could argue that Brownlee’s career would have been shabby without a gold. He has long been considered a phenomenon of his sport, a former world champion whose consistency in his younger years once yielded 45 straight podium finishes. On that front, he exceeded even Alistair. But comparisons to his brother haver naturally cast him in a less shiny light, and it has only added to his charm that he has never been anything less than decent about all that talk.
He has always been likeable, a good egg, and so there was something gnawing about an interview he gave to Sportsmail prior to these Games when he said he wouldn’t be ‘100 per cent content without an Olympic gold’. That can be parked forever.
Brownlee added: ‘The Olympics is always a special event and this one is even more special after what everyone’s been through and to do it as a team is absolutely amazing.
‘I don’t really know what to say. If someone had said at the start of my international career I’d have three Olympic medals and three different colours I’d have taken that. It’s super special. The way we all raced today was amazing.
Jonny Brownlee joked he had ‘completed’ the Olympics after finally securing a gold medal
‘Jess set us up perfectly, we didn’t make any mistakes, we did everything as well as we could and Alex finished it off. To finally get a gold medal, I’m quite emotional. It’s about time, I keep on trying to get gold medals, Alistair’s won two so far and to go home with one and get towards matching him is super special.
‘It’s also the first ever mixed team relay in triathlon so we’ve made history in that. I feel like I’ve been a part of a lot of history in my career and that’s just another one. It’s capped off my Olympic career amazingly.’
Britain had some level of control of this race from the start. Learmonth put the quartet on a good path, leading through both the 300m swim and the 6.8km ride. Despite the run being her lesser suit, Learmonth was only two seconds back in third when she tagged in Brownlee.
He was in the cluster of four through the swim and briefly lost speed when his foot slipped from his pedal after the transition to the bike. But he was embedded with the US, Germany and the Netherlands and then snatched an early lead in the run. He was busting a gut to get to that top step and by the time he handed over to Georgia Taylor-Brown he had earned a nine-second lead. A huge effort.
With Taylor-Brown and Yee silver medallists in the individual events, Britain held all the best cards. The lead grew substantially through Taylor-Brown’s ride, up to 23sec at one stage, but by the time she switched to trainers it was down to 11. Given the strength of her run, it was a healthy lead, but a minor downturn in momentum.
She stretched it back out to 21, allowing Yee some breathing room. Taylor-Brown said: ‘I just wanted a comfortable swim and bike and I knew I needed to give everything that last run lap and give everything I could for little Yee-boy.’
Yee collapses to the ground after crossing the finish line as he is congratulated by team-mates
He was 17 seconds clear getting on his bike, but the pursuit was led by the world No 1 Vincent Luis of France and the American Morgan Pearson. They could work as a team, sharing the load, but Yee was out on his own.
One metre at a time, they reeled him in, and with one lap of the circuit remaining Luis moved alongside. Yee and Luis were effectively even going to the transition, and as an international grade runner, Yee still had a trick to play, but Pearson and Luis are quick. Very quick. It was a fight for gold.
Yee pulled it out to a 50m lead at the end of the first lap of the run, and that is a big lead in this reduced format. Luis and Pearson attacked and pushed, but the latter couldn’t do it. He took silver, Luis had bronze. Britain, and Brownlee, had gold.
Yee said: ‘I was pretty scared taking over. These guys had done the perfect race up to that point – we had the three best people doing each leg and I wanted to do it justice. In my mind I wasn’t going to do anything less than trying to get the win.’
Learmonth added: ‘I can’t believe it. I was slightly nervous being in a team with Olympic medallists.’
They all are now.
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