For Jonny Brownlee, it must have seemed like the hardest part of the race was behind him as he neared the finish line of the Triathlon World Series this Sunday in the first place spot. But as he entered the last 700 meter stretch, he suddenly slowed and began weaving across the road, overcome by exhaustion and dehydration.
And that's when his older brother came in for the rescue.
Alistair Brownlee zoomed in from behind, and, putting his brother's arm over his shoulder, practically dragged Jonny to the finish line, where he made sure Jonny crossed first. The move cost Alistair his own chance of winning the race. But for the Brownlees, what some applauded as a triumph of the human spirit is simply a matter of a brother helping a brother.
The Brownlees have been competing their whole lives, and are now repeat Olympians. At the London games in 2012, Alistair took home gold, and Jonny, bronze; the two returned to the podium in Rio, with another gold for Alistair and silver for Jonny. After crossing the finish line in Brazil, the brothers collapsed and embraced in one of the 2016 Olympic's most memorable moments.
At the World Series competition in Cozumel, Mexico, things were less celebratory after Jonny's near-collapse. For Alistair, helping a fading runner was something he had to do, brother or not.
"If it happened to anyone I would have helped them across the line because it’s an awful position to be in," Alistair told reporters afterwards. "If he’d conked out before the finish line and there wasn't medical support it could have been really dangerous. It was a natural human reaction to my brother but for anyone I would have done the same thing."
Alistair knew firsthand the confusion and pain his brother was experiencing in that moment of exhaustion, having had a similar scare at a London race in 2010, according to The Guardian. Even though slowing down for his brother in the last stretch of the race would undoubtedly ruin his chance of winning, Alistair took his brother all the way to the finish, paused, and pushed Jonny over the line for a second-place finish. Alistair then crossed the line to take third. Both brothers came in behind South African runner Henri Schoeman, who overtook them during the last few hundred meters.
Overall, Spanish triathlete Mario Mola, who came in fifth in Sunday's race, took home the World Series title, with Jonny four points behind.
Some questioned whether Alistair's move to pull his brother into second place was allowed, but the triathlon rules do allow assistance from other competitors in situations like this, according to The Guardian.
At the finish line, Jonny was rushed to the hospital but is making a speedy recovery, tweeting his thanks to his brother.
In typical brotherly fashion, Alistair tempered his sympathy for Jonny with a half-joking jab at his brother, telling the BBC, "I wish the flipping idiot had just paced it right and won the race. He could have jogged the last two kilometers."
The story of brothers coming together to help each other during a race echoes multiple moments from Rio, as athletes' decisions highlighted sports' lessons not just about winning, but overcoming adversity in all walks of life.
In Rio, when New Zealand runner Nikki Hamblin and American Abbey D'Agostino collided during the qualifying heat of the women's 5,000 meter race. As Ms. D'Agostino got up, she noticed that Ms. Hamblin seemed to be crying, so she went over to her and encouraged her to keep running. Hamblin and D'Agostino were able to complete the race, though D'Agostino herself had injured her knee.
"That girl is the Olympic spirit right there," Hamblin said. "I've never met her before. Like I never met this girl before. And isn't that just so amazing. Such an amazing woman."
That's not the only inspiring story from the 2016 Olympics. The first-ever Refugee Olympic Team was greeted with a standing ovation as they entered the opening ceremonies. Days later, South Korean gymnast Lee Eun-Ju took a selfie with North Korean competitor Hong Un Jong in a gesture that flew in the face of over a half century of conflict between the two nations.