Seeing older brother Alistair carry his younger sibling over the finish line might be one of sport’s most endearing images, but for Jonny Brownlee it remains a source of considerable embarrassment.
Jonny was a matter of metres from claiming his second world triathlon title in Cozumel, Mexico in September when heat stroke and exhaustion kicked in, causing him to lose control of his legs.
Double Olympic champion Alistair swooped in to help the stricken Jonny complete the race, although the damage was done and Spain’s Mario Mola was able to pip the Yorkshireman to the overall World Triathlon Series crown.
But it was not the frustration of a coveted gong slipping away which cut Jonny the deepest, more the reinforcement of him being perceived as Alistair’s little brother over all else.
“I look back on it with awkwardness and embarrassment more than anything,” Jonny told City A.M.
“As an athlete you want to win things and to be within 100m of becoming world champion then lose that race was a massive disappointment.
“All the attention from it was a very, very strange feeling. As an athlete you think that attention will come when you win races or achieve, not lose races.
“If anything it’s made the whole thing of being Alistair’s little brother a little bit worse because first I got known for coming second to Alistair, now I’ve got known for him helping me over the line.
“That was a chance for me to beat Alistair and become world champion and I messed it up. It was a chance for me to get over this feeling of not winning things and being Alistair’s little brother.”
Jonny is desperate to emerge from his brother’s shadow, irrespective of his own notable achievements. The 26-year-old won Olympic silver in Rio de Janeiro last year and bronze at London 2012, but is intent on forging his own victory trail.
As well as his two Olympic triumphs, Alistair is a two-time world, three-time European and reigning Commonwealth champion. Jonny claimed silver behind his brother in three of those.
“I’ve had a good career so far. If someone would have told me that I would medal in what I’ve medalled in, I’d definitely have taken it,” he added. “But now, it’s about winning things. I’ve been pretty good at being a runner-up and the nearly man.
“Being the nearly man is better than getting nowhere near but, in the rest of my career, I would like to convert a few of those bronze and silvers into gold.
“I want that feeling of coming across the line in first place and I want to win things. Achievement wise, there is still a lot to come from me.
“This year I want to become world champion, Commonwealth champion in 2018 and there is a big box to tick in terms of getting an Olympic gold.”
Perhaps it would take the status of Olympic champion to fade the fond memories of London 2012 and competing in Hyde Park, which Jonny ranks as the highlight of his career in terms of the overall experience.
But there would be a sense of remorse if he failed to secure the biggest title of all before he calls time on his career – he will be 30 at the 2020 Games in Tokyo.
“There would be regret,” said Jonny. “I completely understand that not every athlete can win an Olympic gold medal but there would be some regret.
“It would be regret more than disappointment as I would be very happy walking away with a bronze and silver. The way to describe an Olympic gold medal would be the cherry on top of the cake.”
Not every athlete’s greatest rival and the person standing between themselves and the realisation of their ambitions is a member of their own family, who also happens to be the only triathlete to win two Olympic titles.
Alistair, 28, has not confirmed whether he will compete in Tokyo as he focuses his attention on the World Ironman Championships over the next couple of years. Whether Alistair is there or not, Jonny is convinced he can edge the fraternal battle.
“Training together before London 2012, I knew that he was in incredible shape and better than me, so I went into London already defeated and only competing for second or third,” added Jonny.
“In Rio, we were definitely a little bit closer and I thought I could beat him. In the last couple of years I’ve felt we’re a lot more equal, although, unfortunately, I still haven’t beaten him too many times.
“But I’m older now and hope that I’m coming into the peak of my career and can beat him.
“It’s a strange dynamic in many ways. When you compete in the Olympics you would usually have no real idea what shape other athletes are in.
“When I’m on that start line I know exactly what shape Alistair is in. I have got used to that and I’ve actually come to like it now; having someone on the start line who I trust, who will run the same way as me.
“It is also strange to know that if I want to achieve my dreams then I have to beat my brother.”
As part of his bid to be crowned world champion, Jonny will be contesting the Leeds stage of the event in June, vying for glory on the streets and in the waters of his home county.
“I can’t wait to compete there,” said Jonny. “To compete in front of a home crowd is an amazing feeling, on the streets of Leeds where I was brought up, doing the sport I love.
“I have been very, very lucky to compete in some beautiful places such as Auckland, Cape Town and Cozumel, but Leeds is very special to me. It’s home and you always want to compete and win at home.
“I think sometimes we forget how much of a sporting culture we have in Britain and especially in Yorkshire. It’s very special.”
The Columbia Threadneedle World Triathlon Leeds returns to the city on 10-11 June, representing the pinnacle of triathlon competition in theUK. Join the world’s best and sign up today, visit http://leeds.triathlon. org