My Best Teacher: Alistair and Jonny Brownlee

Olympic triathletes Alistair and Jonny Brownlee talk about Mr Kingham, the teacher who took pupils out for a run every lunchtime, and Mr Simpson, the history teacher who promoted healthy living

The Brownlee brothers

Alistair

I had a teacher called Tony Kingham. He was my form teacher at Bradford Grammar School for a couple of years. He also taught me French.

But, most importantly, he was the teacher in charge of the running club. He took people out for a run every single day, rain or shine. We went for 40 minutes to an hour, every day.

I definitely wouldn’t have got into running the way I did, without him. As an 11-year-old, I was getting the training in, and it meant I could get out of school at lunchtime. I could escape. I got out in the streets and countryside and footpaths around Bradford. 

When I first went to school, there could be even 30 or 40 people in lunchtime, going out for a run. 

Burnt a bit of energy

Without that, I wouldn’t have been able to concentrate in the afternoon. It was important I burnt a bit of energy of a lunchtime, so I could sit still and concentrate in the afternoon. 

It’s an amazing commitment: to take people out every day, and then take them to races on a Saturday. There were quite a lot of people going – it could be a coach load of 40 students.

He was keen on cross-country being a team sport – doing it for your team. There was just a great atmosphere of encouraging each other, and pushing each other on. 

His passion for it was incredible. He was probably in his sixties when I was at school. That’s really impressive. I think he still goes out running every day. 

Just running out the door

I had enjoyed running before then. But this was the first time that I enjoyed running every day, and the learning, training and discipline aspect of it. 

And it was the first time I associated running with the freedom of it: just sticking your trainers on and running out the door, and going wherever I wanted.

Some lunchtimes, we’d all do the same run. Sometimes, especially as I got a bit older, and was taking it a bit more seriously – when I was 15 or 16 – I was doing a bit more mileage. I’d go out by myself.

Mr Kingham left the same time as me, but he’d been at the school for 40 years. He’d had runners who’d been Olympians in the past, 30 years before we came. 

I’ve seen him a few times: he’s still involved in the local running scene. He helps out in the local running club, and we’ve been members for a long time. 

He emails me quite a bit. He always knows what I’ve been up to, when I talk to him. I don’t see him an awful lot, though. But, every time I do see him, I really enjoy it.

Jonny

Mr Simpson was my form teacher for two years at Bradford Grammar School. Firstly, he was a really nice guy. He was our friend, but not too close of a friend, so we respected him. 

It was during our GCSE years, when we were growing up. So we could talk to him about exam stress

At the same time, I remember people not doing their homework, and he gave them detention. (Not me: I always did my homework.) Mr Simpson said, “Come on, guys. Now you’re going to have to sit in a room for an hour, instead of going out and playing football.”

He also cycled to school, which I did, too. He promoted healthy living. I always realised the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. For me, Mr Simpson kind of emphasised that: healthy living. For people who maybe weren’t that way inclined, he made that difference. 

Reading people's opinions

He was a history teacher, and I quite liked history. I always find it quite fascinating how what happened back in the day affects us now – the politics of it. I was fascinated by the Tudors. Hitler and Stalin as well. I liked reading different people’s opinions and then coming up with my own opinion. I did history at university.

I do occasionally see him out on the roads of Yorkshire still. When he’s out on his bike, we say, “Hi,” and I stop and talk to him. 

I still call him "Mr Simpson". It’s not because of the way he is – it’s because of the way I am. I struggle to call teachers by their first names. I was at the same school for a long time, so they were always teachers for me.

He taught us that, if you did things well and to the best of your ability, that was all anyone could ask of you. If you stay ahead of things, that helps. I’m very organised, and I like being ahead of things – staying ahead of the game. Perhaps that was influenced by him.

The Brownlee brothers were speaking to Adi Bloom

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