The Brownlee Factor

  • By Aaron Hersh
  • Published Aug 7, 2012
  • Updated Oct 31, 2014 at 4:38 PM UTC
Photo: Janos Schmidt/

Penalty on the podium

Jonathan Brownlee picked a terrible time to get the first penalty of his career, but according to the athlete himself, it may not have affected the outcome.

He jumped on his bike one step—really just a few inches—too soon and was given a 15-second penalty. Jonny took it in stride, but Alistair was fuming after the race.

“I think penalties are a complete disgrace in triathlon, they’re ruining the sport, said the Olympic champion after the race. “They’re bringing judgmental decisions into a sport where it should be simple, you start and you finish and the first three across the line win.”

Although he might have simply been defending his brother—there has to be a mount line somewhere—the influence of the penalty on the race was undeniable.

Despite being told by his coaches to serve the penalty during the first lap, Jonathan made the call on the fly to run past the penalty box on the first and second laps. He only entered the box after loosing about 3 seconds to Gomez. “He clearly made the right decision to take it later rather than earlier,” said British Triathlon performance manager Malcolm Brown.

Jonathan Brownlee was truly maxed after losing to Gomez by 20 seconds—5 more than he stood in the box—but he is the two-time ITU Sprint Distance Triathlon world champion, and Gomez is a notoriously slow kicker. As both Brownlees said, “we’ll never know” if the outcome would have been different without a penalty, but at least Jonathan seems to be at peace with it.

“That’s just racing”

The medal presentation—cutely given the official name Victory Ceremony—was delayed for several minutes while Jonathan Brownlee received medal attention. He crossed the line, walked around for a few minutes then went into a semi-hot room and collapsed to the ground. He was taken to the medical tent and covered with ice and wet towels to reduce his body temperature. Eventually he came out of the tent to receive his medal. Alistair also collapsed and needed medical attention at this same venue during 2010 ITU WCS London, and when asked about Jonathan’s condition, both athletes said, “it’s just racing.” Dropping to the ground and needing medical help is not “just racing” for most triathletes, but it has become fairly standard for these two because of their full-throttle racing.

Torch passed

The Brownlees and Gomez have run the old guard right out of the ITU. Simon Whitfield, Hunter Kemper, Bevan Docherty and even 2008 Olympic champion Jan Frodeno all said they plan to shift their focus away from the ITU and on to non-drafting races. Age is a factor, but they all cited the wildly fast run splits as a big reason they’re changing course.

These veterans might again be contending with the same problem they currently have in the ITU, however. Alistair Brownlee said after the race, “I might try and do something a bit different, some of the races in America that are non-drafting.”

Aero decisions

Aero road bikes and aero wheels are commonplace in the ITU pack, and aero helmets might be the next piece of equipment to migrate from non-drafting races over to the draft-legal format. Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee both raced in semi-aero road-style helmets without ventilation, the same style that was widely used for the first time in this year’s Tour de France. Stuart Hayes and Simon Whitfield took aerodynamic headwear even further and opted for full-on aero helmets. Whitfield anticipated having to chase out of the water and Hayes knew he would spend his day on the front of the bike pack protecting the brothers Brownlee, so they both had good reason to go aero. In fact, any athlete who could possibly end up in a breakaway on the bike or need to make up time after the swim can benefit from an aero helmet. Expect to see them more and more.

Interestingly, the Brownlees decided to leave aerobars off their bikes and raced only with standard road-style drop bars while many of their competitors opted to use clip-ons.

Read the Olympic race recap.

Brownlee Bonanza: World’s Best Speak Before Olympic Triathlon
Will Brownlee And Jenkins Break World Championship Curse?
Interview: The Brownlee Brothers
Photos: Olympic Favorites Go 1-2-3 In Kitzbühel
Will Brownlee’s Injury Improve His London Chances?
Prepare For The British Invasion
Photos: The Brownlee Brothers

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FILED UNDER: Features / Olympics TAGS: / /

Aaron Hersh

Aaron Hersh

Aaron Hersh is the Senior Tech Editor of Triathlete magazine. To submit a question, write Aaron at

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