YOU shouldn’t go swimming with sharks or, as the triathlon showed us yesterday, with Brownlees. A young Scot, Marc Austin, tried and, remarkably, he managed to stick with them.
Then he went cycling with those astonishing athletes and he was still on their shoulders. But then the brothers did what the Brownlees do, and then Alistair did what Alistair does and ran away from Jonny to complete the full set. He has won British, European, World, Olympic and, now, Commonwealth titles.
But Alistair, who crossed the line in 1hr 48mins 50secs in punishingly hot conditions, was glowing in his praise of the plucky Glaswegian for managing to remain in their slipstream for so long. “I was just amazed Marc was there,” he said. “I could see he was doing everything he could to stay with us. He’s one of the few guys over the years who’s managed to swim and bike with me and Jonny so fair play to him. He did well today and he’s one for the future, definitely.”
With 100 yards to go at Strathclyde Park, Alistair slowed to walking pace, took the applause of an enthusiastic crowd who appreciated the Iron Man displays of all the competitors, wrapped himself in England flags and only occasionally looked back to check on the progress of Jonny, who improved on his bronze at the London Olympics to take silver.
Alistair declared the course “brilliant”, wishing they could all be like this.
He said: “The water was nice and clean, the bike section was hilly and tough and the run was old-school.”
Still only 26 with surely more greatness to come, much to the irritation of Jonny, he looked ridiculously fresh afterwards – in stark contrast to Austin, 20, who had to be led groggily to the medical tent.
When he re-appeared 15 minutes later he was with his mother Judith who declared herself “really proud of a gutsy performance” and then let him talk us through it. “I gave it everything,” he said. “I know I can swim and bike with the best and on a good day my running is up there. But I’ve never been in a race as hard as that before – it was pretty brutal.
“I’m not used to that level of competition. These two really are the best of the world. There was a bit of chat on the bikes, as there always is, and they were trying to encourage me. It might have looked like I was hitching a free ride but I was trying to contribute although I’m just not strong enough for that yet.
“When it was just the three of us I realised I was out of my depth. But the crowd were pretty phenomenal, especially going up the climb. There was this incredible wall of sound. I’d never experienced that before. The people who came out to watch really helped me. They were amazing even when I was running slow. I don’t really want to think about that run. I’d pushed myself beyond my natural limits. But I was in the hunt for the medals for a bit. I’m happy that I gave it everything and would like to think I did myself proud.”
He did, and David McNamee was the highest-placed Scot in seventh. The third member of the tartan trio, Grant Sheldon, learned to ride a bike as a nipper in this park, but even that kind of insider info couldn’t make any impression on the remarkable Alistair Brownlee, surely in the running (and swimming and cycling) to become the greatest endurance athlete ever.
Spare a thought for Jonny, at 24, who knows his big brother’s ramrod-straight running style better than anyone given that he trains with him in their native Yorkshire and often finishes just behind him. “I’m the kind of guy who always comes second or third,” he said as the pair refuelled with Irn-Bru. “But I think I’m getting a little bit closer while Al is getting a little bit older and greyer. Hopefully my time will come.”
The triathlon might have looked like two events in one, the first between the Brownlees and the second involving the other 45 competitors to see who could squeeze on to the podium with them. But that didn’t lessen the intrigue, the fervour of the crowd, or the privilege of being there. So many skinnymalinks who shouldn’t be able to multi-task like this but can. Well, apart from Richard Murray from South Africa, a country that doesn’t really do the beanpole physique. He took bronze.
Two laps of the loch to complete 1,500m. Five on the cycle-track round it for 40 kilometres and a 10k run. Oh yes, and all in hot conditions which themselves set a Scottish record beforehand.
The swim was officially a no-wetsuits race because the water temperature had climbed to a level of 20°C. In two decades of being involved in the sport in Scotland, team manager John Lunn had never seen competitors in their Edwardian-style bathing cozzies before.
In recognition of this, Alistair Brownlee pinged his straps as he pranced onto the pontoon. Bizarrely, the singlet look evoked Rod Stewart during his LA period. This was possibly because I couldn’t get Stewart’s duff song choice from the previous night’s opening ceremony out of my head. Thankfully, none of the athletes wore a lemon cheesecutter or leopard-print leggings.
The Glaswegian humanity celebrated at Celtic Park was in evidence from the start as one competitor fell seriously behind in the loch. It was Bob Gabourel who, we learned, was at a disadvantage coming from Belize where there are no tarmac roads so he must do his bike training at night on an airstrip. The crowd loved this and got right behind him. “Bob! Bob!” they urged, and the first little victory was soon won – their backing helped prevent him being lapped by the killer Brownlees. Scots love a trier and a short while later they had one of their own to cheer. And then they bore witness to a true marvel.