Triathlon: Tactics, toughness and talent turn Brownlee into gold
LONDON (Reuters) - Since triathlon joined the Olympics in 2000 it has produced seven out of seven upset wins but Alistair Brownlee bucked the trend in spectacular style on Tuesday when he delivered a perfectly-executed race plan to claim Britain's first medal in the sport.
Their second came moments later when younger brother Jonathan took bronze, despite having to serve a 15-second penalty for mounting his bike too early, while Spaniard Javier Gomez, fourth four years ago when he was top-ranked, split them with silver.
The three men, who race together for French team EC Sartrouville, dragged themselves from the blue carpeted floor to hug each other as each of them achieved a memory to cherish.
To the untrained eye, Alistair's victory may have seemed straightforward, especially as he entered the finishing straight so far clear that he had time to wrap himself in a Union Flag and slow to a tantalizing walk through the finishing tape.
In fact it was a triumph of tactics and his mental and physical ability to impose himself on the very best of the sport.
Alistair tried to do that four years ago when as an upstart 20-year-old he made a brave tilt at the title, leading the run after seven km before fading to finish 12th. Since then, however, he has developed into an unstoppable force.
Able to cover the final 10km in around 28 minutes, only about a minute slower than Mo Farah ran to win Olympic gold on the track and running on a lumpy course full of sharp turns, Alistair knows that if he comes off the bike in the lead pack then nobody should be able to live with him.
But in triathlon, that is easier said than done, as 2000 champion and 2008 silver medalist Simon Whitfield of Canada discovered to his cost when he crashed after a collision early in the bike leg and had to withdraw.
The Brownlee boys both emerged from the Serpentine swim among the leaders and set out in a breakaway group of five on the bike.
It is a scenario they have come across many times before and they immediately pushed on in a bid to make it decisive.
It turned out not to be as the chasing pack of around 15 caught them. However, among those was Stuart Hayes, selected, somewhat controversially, as a "domestique" to help the Brownlees on to the podium.
It was a tactic Canada used to push Whitfield to silver in Beijing but one frowned upon by many who consider it out of place in an individual sport.
Hayes, though, put his head down and rode hard into the wind, with the brothers gleefully trailing in his slipstream knowing that nobody was going to make a break.
"I did my best to help them and it worked," Hayes said. "Team tactics help but those guys are amazing.
"I've been training with them for the last month and I couldn't imagine anyone beating them.
"It's a great moment for British triathlon. We've got it right for once."
Hayes delivered the brothers into the second transition just where they wanted to be - at the front having not had to destroy themselves to get there - and then it was all about the finishing order.
They and Gomez were away and clear immediately, all top-notch runners. Jonny slipped back early on the third of four laps, losing even further ground when forced to take his 15- second penalty.
Alistair and Gomez then slugged it out side by side but both men, and the triathlon aficionados among the estimated 250,000 crowd lining the route, knew there was only going to be one winner.
From then on it was nothing to do with tactics, just a will to take more pain than your rival. Alistair really drove himself into the red zone late in the third lap and Gomez cracked. The Briton forged on relentlessly and was far enough clear to be able to enjoy his tumultuous welcome.
All three medalists were in bits at the end, with the ceremony delayed as Jonny, 22, received an IV drip in the medical tent.
"The race was unbelievable. I felt in control from the start," said Brownlee senior.
Alistair revealed that he had gone even harder than planned to try to keep his brother in the medal mix after they found out about the penalty.
"I took the first lap of the run out really hard to try and get Jonny as far away from the others as he can and hopefully Gomez," he said.
"I think it was deceptively hard today. Obviously it was fast but also with this kind of hot, humid and muggy day it dehydrates you and overheats you and he (Jonny) was probably just right on the edge at the finish like you are normally and it probably just tipped him over the edge towards the end.
"But triathlon is a hard sport"
(Editing by Ed Osmond)