Two brothers from West Yorkshire competing together at the same Olympics. Now where have we heard that one before?
The sibling success of Leeds triathletes Alistair and Jonny Brownlee has been one of the best British stories to come out of the last two Games.
But with Jonny going it alone in Tokyo, the attention turns from the Brownlee brothers to the Litchfield lads – and Pontefract swimmers Max and Joe know they have a lot to live up to.
Brothers Max (left) and Joe Litchfield are set to compete for Great Britain in the swimming at the Olympics Games in Tokyo
They have been compared to the Brownlee brothers and triathletes Alastair and Jonny (left)
‘It’s pretty big task to try and beat them, isn’t it?’ laughs older sibling Max, who finished fourth in the 400 metres individual medley at Rio 2016, where Alistair won his second gold and Jonny added a silver to the bronze he claimed in London.
‘People have called us ‘the Brownlees of swimming’ and I guess the fact we are from Yorkshire, there is a correlation.
‘There are not many siblings who can say they have been to an Olympics together. It is pretty amazing to be part of that history and put our family on the map.’
Olympic debutant Joe, 22, adds: ‘Everyone has said our whole lives, ‘Oh, they are the next Brownlee brothers’. We’ve always just joked about it, but now the dream has come true and we are at an Olympics together, which is pretty surreal.
‘It is special to be going there with my brother. Hopefully in the next few years we can become the biggest male siblings in swimming.’
Joe Litchfield (left) and brother Max pictured at the Team GB kitting out ahead of the Olympics
Much like the Brownlees have gone toe to toe in races, Joe only qualified for his first Games after beating Max in the 200m IM at April’s Olympic trials.
If that was a somewhat bittersweet moment for the family, it was long forgotten two days later when Max won the 400m IM to reach his second Olympics.
It ensured the Litchfields would become just the third brothers to represent Great Britain in the pool at the same Olympics – and the first since 1952.
‘Throughout my career I’ve been chasing Max because he is three years older,’ says Joe. ‘Younger siblings can see how quick their older siblings are and give up – but it made me want to get faster and that is why I stuck around in the sport.
‘Now we are both senior athletes, we both battle each other. When you are in the pool, it is not like you are brothers. He is just another competitor.
Max Litchfield in the 400m Individual Medley final at the British Olympics trials in April
Joe Litchfield in action in the 200m Individual Medley during last month’s meet in Glasgow
‘It was good to beat him in trials, but then I was just hoping that Max got it done on the 400m IM so we could both go and thankfully that happened.’
Max adds: ‘To share the experience with him will be awesome. The family can’t go out there this time because of Covid but we can be family for each other out there.’
Joe describes Max as the ‘sensible’ sibling and a ‘little bit OCD’, while he is ‘more stupid’ and ‘does more dumb stuff’.
But the pair cannot remember ever having a serious fall-out, with Max – whose girlfriend is fellow Tokyo-bound swimmer Sarah Vasey – admitting that Joe would be the best man at his wedding.
‘We’ve trained together our whole lives so if we had a hatred for each other then we’d be struggling!’ smiles Max.
Sport actually runs in the Litchfield genes, although their dad Peter did a different form of diving – as a goalkeeper for Preston, Bradford and Scunthorpe in the 1980s, playing as high as the old Second Division.
A view of the Tokyo Aquatics Centre where the Olympic swimming events will be held
‘I think his sporting talent definitely rubbed off,’ says Joe. ‘He’s not involved in the footballing scene now, he works in cars. But he is very much invested in swimming.
‘He is what we call a ‘Swim Dad’ – they have their own community and love everything about swimming.’
After the trials in the spring, the Litchfields travelled back to Pontefract to celebrate with Peter and mum Donna and were greeted with photos of their faces on the garage and a ‘congratulations’ banner.
From Saturday, their parents will be staying up into the early hours to watch their boys in action from the comfort of their living room, with Max looking to go one place better than he did in Rio in what is the first swimming final of the Games.
‘I remember finishing and seeing I was fourth in 2016 and I didn’t really believe it at first,’ says Max. ‘Then immediately I thought, ‘You know what, the next time in Tokyo, I can make sure I go there and win some medals’. That has been the goal since Rio.’
Joe will get his 200m IM campaign under way three days later and he also hopes to team up with his brother in the 4x200m freestyle relay.
The Aquatics Centre set against the backdrop of Tokyo’s skyline as the Olympics get underway
‘Originally I wanted to go and have a great experience, but looking at time and comparing it to the last Olympics, if I knock off a second, that’s a medal,’ adds Joe.
‘I’m hoping to feature in all of the men’s relays and maybe with Max in the 4x200m free. It would be cool to come away from the Olympics with a medal – and it would be pretty incredible to do it alongside Max.
‘The Brownlees got gold and silver. If we can both get medals, then we have kind of reached a similar level. Hopefully this will be just one of three Olympics together. It’s exciting what the future holds.’