My Best Teacher: The Brownlee Brothers

The Brownlee Brothers competing at the Olympics Photo: Graham Beardley

The Brownlee Brothers competing at the Olympics Photo: Graham Beardley - Credit: Archant

Family ties are more important than running times for the Brownlee brothers, demonstrated when Alistsair helped his brother Jonny over the line at the 2016 World Triathlon Series.The pair, who grew up in Horsforth, West Yorkshire, tell us how their teachers at Bradford Grammar School shaped their careers, making them to train as hard as they possibly could, set themselves challenges, and do everything to the absolute best of their abilities. The lessons learned paved the way to a huge haul of medals and the start of the Brownlee Foundation, which encourages children to love sport.

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Family ties are more important than running times for the Brownlee brothers, demonstrated when Alistsair helped his brother Jonny over the line at the 2016 World Triathlon Series.

The pair, who grew up in Horsforth, West Yorkshire, tell us how their teachers at Bradford Grammar School shaped their careers, making them to train as hard as they possibly could, set themselves challenges, and do everything to the absolute best of their abilities.

The lessons learned paved the way to a huge haul of medals and the start of the Brownlee Foundation, which encourages children to love sport.

Alistair Brownlee

Two-times Olympic gold-medallist Alistair Brownlee is the only athlete to win two triathlon titles in the event.

He’s also a two-time World Champion, winning in 2009 and again in 2011, a three-time European Champion and the 2014 Commonwealth gold medallist.

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He was appointed MBE in the 2013 New Year’s Honours List for services to triathlon, and runner-up to tennis world number one tennis Andy Murray in the 2016 BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

Alistair famously sacrificed his chance of winning the final race of the 2016 World Triathlon Series in Cozumel, Mexico, because brother Jonny – who was leading – began to show the effects of heat exhaustion and was near to collapse in the final 10km run.

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He pushed Jonny over the line, eventually coming in third behind South African Henri Schoeman.

The eldest of three brothers, the close-knit Brownlee family moved to Horsforth in west Yorkshire just before Jonny was born.

And the three boys spent their life competing with each other - even down to who could get to the dishwasher first after dinner.

But it was his modern languages teacher at Bradford Grammar School who convinced Alistair, 28, to give cross-country a go one lunchtime.

He’s not looked back since and now, with his brother, runs the Brownlee Foundation, which runs mini-triathlon events for KS2 pupils.

“Jonny is two years and one week younger than me and had a bedroom next to mine. Five years later, Ed came along.

“My parents Keith and Cathy were keen we were exposed to hamsters, guinea pigs and rabbits - but they weren’t for me, or Jonny. Interestingly, Ed’s training to be a vet, so maybe our childhood pets did have an impact on him.

“We’d go to our cottage at weekends. Mum and dad sent us outside to explore and they’d take us for long walks.

“By the age of 10 or 11, I was doing sport seriously after school, so for me it was always about getting my homework done as quickly as possible, before or afterwards.

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“We three boys would compete at everything, and I mean everything. Table tennis, badminton in the garden… Dad joked recently we’d even compete about the dishwasher. I think the reason Jonny eats so quickly now is that he was always wanting to finish his food before me when we were growing up.

“When we started training seriously for triathlon, we worked out that we couldn’t compete against each other in every session, that it wasn’t going to benefit either of us – in fact, it would be damaging. So we know when we have to challenge each other in training and we definitely help each other until the run – when it’s every man for himself.

“Cozumel was different; I needed to get him to the finish line as quickly as possible because he had a chance of winning the world title – and more importantly it was where he was going to get the quickest medical attention, which is what he needed.

“Mum was a swimmer and dad a runner, so we were pretty sporty. I swam from a young age and loved it, and I really got into running at Bradford Grammar, but I didn’t excel at it until I was 17, really.

“Our uncle Simon [Hearnshaw] got us into triathlon. To start with, it was just another sport to have a go at, but the combination of the three sports – which I was already doing – and the technical aspect really appealed to me. Like jumping on my bike. And it obviously helped that I was quite good at it.

“Tony Kingham, modern languages teacher at Bradford Grammar, was fantastic. He took the cross-country teams to events almost every weekend during the winter terms. He took running every lunchtime, too, and that was so important to my development.

“I liked school, formal education. I’m naturally inquisitive and very interested in learning. But for me, sport was crucial to being able to learn. I wouldn’t have been able to sit still enough for long enough if the day hadn’t been broken up with some exercise.

“Mr Kingham was quiet, well-respected and never felt the need to be strict. He didn’t have to. He didn’t give me special treatment – I was just one of the lads who turned up for the lunchtime run – but he got so much from us running and us enjoying running.

“He taught me to make sure you enjoy what you do, and to make sure you make the most of, the best of, your ability.

“Being runner-up in the 2016 BBC Sports Personality of the Year was a great honour, and I was thrilled to be second to Andy [Murray]. I was really pleased that triathlon has been shown off to the wider population.

“The Brownlee Foundation is hugely important to me. Jonny and I thought we had a real opportunity to increase the awareness of triathlon after our success in London in 2012, and so we set it up.

“We know that swim-bike-run gives children loads of health benefits, but it’s also given us enormous pleasure and we wanted to share it. We also want to take it to the next stage and start putting on some regular sessions that mean the kids can continue taking part on a regular basis.”

Jonny Brownlee

Jonny Brownlee is one half of the Brownlee brothers, who have taken the triathlon world by storm.

Jonny, 26, a Bingley Harrier, was the 2012 World Champion; bronze medallist at the London Olympics in 2012 - despite a 15-second penalty - and took silver at the 2016 Rio Games, behind his elder brother Alistair.

He is also the reigning two-time World Sprint Triathlon Champion.

As well as his Olympic haul, Jonny won team gold with Alistair at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014, plus individual silver, and he has seven ITU Triathlon World Championship golds under his belt.

Born in Dewsbury, west Yorkshire, Jonny was brought up in the nearby town of Horsforth.

The middle son of dad Keith, a promising runner, and mum Cathy, a swimmer, he pitted himself against Alistair and younger sibling Edward, a promising runner and swimmer.

At Bradford Grammar, a co-ed independent school, Jonny was coached by Charles Lines - a sports teacher with a formidable work ethic and a fast pair of running shoes.

“We were a very active family. Mum and dad were doctors and massively busy, but we spent our weekends walking and our holidays outdoors.

“In the evenings, I swam for Aireborough Swimming Club or got out to do cross-country, and it was football for a local team at weekends. I was rugby and cricket captain at school, and I loved water polo and running. Basically, there was always lots of mud and kit in our house, and we spent our lives getting told off for making the floor dirty.

“There was always sibling rivalry in our house, particularly between me and Alistair. He’s two years older than me and I always wanted to prove myself against him. We watched the Sydney Olympics together in 2000, but it was only when Alistair qualified in 2008 that it really came on to my radar. I knew then I’d do the London Olympics in 2012.

“At school, I’d always excelled at endurance sport, but it was my uncle Simon Hearnshaw who really got me into triathlon.

“I loved water polo and running, and I played every sport that I could. But triathlon . . . it was so exciting. I loved the changing of the sports. The training was hard, really hard, and there was always training to be done. Basically I loved the challenge.

“The director of sport and my sports teacher at Bradford Grammar, Charles Lines, was amazing. I used to run with him at lunchtime and he was fast. He taught me to love sport and to set challenges and achieve them. But most of all, he taught me to train hard, really hard, and be proud that you do sport.

“From him, I learned a valuable lesson; to enjoy training, and always to train to the best of your ability. Always.

“I loved my years at Bradford Grammar - I did A-levels in Chemistry, History, Biology and Spanish there - and I loved university in Leeds. I liked having something to do outside sport, setting and achieving other challenges.

“School taught me that if you work hard you can achieve whatever you want, whether that’s in sport or education.

“Mr Lines was strict, but if you worked hard, he respected you. I always got special treatment from him. If I’d run at lunchtime, for example, he’d take me to the front of the lunch queue. Out of everyone, he encouraged me by showing me how much he loved sport. And he always ran with a smile on his face.

“The most important life lesson I’ve learned is that if you work hard at something you enjoy, you can achieve your dreams. We’re doing that with the Brownlee Foundation - the charity I run with Alistair.

“We’re trying to get young children to be active. By putting on mini triathlon events - a 20 or 25m swim; 600 or 800km bike and 300 or 400m run - we’re exposing children to four sports, and if they want to do one of them after our event, we’ve achieved something.

“We had our first event in 2014, and though they’ve mostly been in Yorkshire up until now, we’ve done events in west London and Ireland. We’ve had about 10,000 kids at the events and we just want to keep growing it, keep passing on our knowledge, keep inspiring them like Mr Lines inspired me. It’s brilliant.”

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