The Brownlee brothers: Great teammates from Day One.
Last month, at the World Championships for Triathlon in Cozumel, Mexico, Alistair Brownlee, two-time Olympic champion, rounded the corner for the last 500 meter sprint to the finish line neck and neck with South African rival, Henri Schoeman. Less than a hundred meters ahead of him, he could see the leader, his brother Jonny, lurch dramatically to one side, then collapse with heat exhaustion into the arms of a volunteer at the aid station. As Alistair and Henri raced past Jonny, Alistair threw his arm under his brother’s shoulder, hurling profanities at him down the home stretch, dragging his brother towards the blue carpet that marked the finish line. While Henri raced ahead for the win, Alistair literally threw his brother across the finish line, ensuring his second place finish in the overall 2016 World rankings. It might be one of the most dramatic and heart-warming finishes in racing history.
When the Brownlee brothers were interviewed later, Alistair explained the dangers of heat exhaustion, how he’s suffered from it, and how “he would have done it for anyone.” He also gently chastised his brother for sprinting too early and too hard. Both men were utterly devoid of ego or bluster, quietly supporting each other despite their years of intense rivalry as training partners…and brothers.
It made me think, what does it mean to be a great teammate? In the workplace, we assemble teams comprised of people from vastly different backgrounds, compelling them to work together towards a common goal. But even in striving for the golden ring, teammates are often pitted against each other, competing for a share of finite resources; headcount, budget, even their manager’s time. We expect perfect teamwork and cooperation even as individuals compete internally as they work towards common objectives.
Yet there is Alistair Brownlee, sacrificing the World Championship title to push his brother across the finish line.