‘An instinctive action.' Alistair Brownlee relives one of the most incredible moments in sports

‘An instinctive action.' Alistair Brownlee relives one of the most incredible moments in sports


One of the greatest moments in sport was described as a brother-in-arms reunion at the finish of a triathlon in Cozumel.

In September 2016, triathlete Alistair Brownlee found his younger brother Jonny suffering from serious medical problems after rounding a corner.

Jonny was leading the race, and he was only moments away from winning the world title. But now he couldn't stand. The temperature was 95 degrees and 90% humidity. His pale cheeks were a sign of heat exhaustion.

Alistair instinctively wrapped his arm around Jonny and ran with him to the finish line, pushing him to second place. Alistair then ran over to the finish line behind Jonny, claiming third place.

The selfless act immediately became viral. By reading the comments on the YouTube clips, it is clear that the viewers were deeply moved by the scene.

Many wrote about their tears as they watched the drama unfold.

Alistair, who was accompanying Jonny to urgent medical treatment, denied that this was an act borne out of brotherly love.

He told the interviewer after the race, 'I have been in this position before.' It's the closest you can get to death in sports.

If it had happened to me, I would have helped the person cross the finish line. I wish that flippin' idiot would have paced himself correctly and crossed the finish first!

Instinctive Action

Seven years after their first triathlon competition, the brothers remain among the most prominent names in the sport. Triathlon is a sport which has been growing in popularity, and now the Professional Triathletes Organization has begun to recognize its commercial potential.

Alistair and Jonny are both Olympic champions. Alistair won gold in London 2012, Rio 2016 and the mixed relay in Tokyo 2020.

Alistair admits that CNN has asked him about the event 'too many times'.

He recalls, 'I ran along thinking about having an alcoholic drink, and I was not overly concerned about where I ended.'

Jonny Brownlee, who had just a few weeks earlier claimed both gold and silver at Rio, was now poised to write the Brownlee name in history again.

Alistair remembers what he thought at the time. "I literally drove around the last turn to see Johnny slumped over into a marker along the side of the race course.

'I didn’t have the time to think clearly, so I grabbed him in a split-second and began running towards the finish.'

He claims it was instinctive, but he can't explain it.

'I have been asked why a thousand time, but in truth, I don't know.'

Alistair claims that Alistair's attitude towards his brother at the Rio Olympics was quite different.

He says, "I knew that we would come first and second at Rio and he told me to relax, don't get too hot, so I started to speed up."

I was taking advantage of my brother's weakness to win the Olympic Games. It wasn't a secret. If you don't want to do it in the Olympics, when will you do it?

Alistair supported his brother to the end, yelling encouragement, and possibly even trying to stop him from falling unconscious.

He was angry that his brother'messed up' the presentation. Although he doesn't recall exactly what he had said, he could imagine the language he used over the noise of the crowd.

I think I probably was yelling at him expletives... maybe I should go back and lip read it at some point.

What seemed to be a happy moment was in fact fraught with worry. Jonny was in a serious condition.

I was clearly worried about my brother. Very, very worried. I was talking to my parents because they were in a panic.

Both parents were doctors who knew the severity of this situation.

They've seen both of us on intensive care bed, being brought to consciousness. It must have made you feel awful. My mum was actually screaming down the phone: "What have you done to your brother?"

Alistair also worried that they could have broken the rule and be disqualified. The rules later changed, but they didn't.

As he lay his head down on the pillow, his emotions were raging. He was also concerned that he might have upset other athletes who had expressed concerns that brothers competing in the same field could have an unfair advantage.

The morning after, however, it became clear that the drama at the finish line had only inspired positive reactions around world.

He says, "I woke up, and I was completely surprised at how crazy it had gotten."

Brothers in a bond

Soon, messages and requests for interviews began to pour in from around the globe. While he never planned for this to happen he now realizes that the moment transcended sport, and captured so many hearts, triggering so much emotion.

"Winning is important in sports, but there are other things that matter more." Family, health and brotherly love were values people saw.

"It was the right decision in the spur of the minute." It's almost certainly the sport-related thing that I've done that has had the greatest impact.

Alistair claims that Jonny and he have barely spoken about the race despite how many people want to discuss it.

He muses, 'I'm not sure we ever spoke about it in a serious way.' We talk about it in a light-hearted way. He would joke that I'd have to ask him to pay every time we entered a restaurant or cafe for the next 6 months. He claims to have paid off his debt.

Alistair believes that because Jonny was so hurt and needed so much help from his brother in public, it would be difficult for him to talk about the situation.

Jonny could not even watch their UK television appearance a few days later.

He said, "You feel stupid because I gave away the gold medal of a world championship." As an athlete, it's not something you want to experience and carry with you to the next race.

When something similar happened in 2010, Alistair said that he could not recall the last five minutes of a race in which eight runners had passed him. An hour later, Alistair woke up on a hospital bed.

Just so happened that Jonny was one of the runners, proving there's a healthy amount of sibling rivalry between them as well as a generous dose of brotherly affection.