Litchfield brothers preparing to make history on Olympic stage

There are just 28,584 hours between Joe and Max Litchfield - but when it comes to the sporting siblings these sort of details really matter.

Because in the power struggle between bickering and bantering brothers, first is often everything.

Joe will make his Olympic debut in Tokyo this summer alongside older brother Max, who is seeking to upgrade his 400m medley fourth from Rio.

The Pontefract pair are the third brothers to compete for Great Britain’s Olympic swim team, after Albert and John Dickin in 1920 and twins Bert and Jack Wardrop in 1952.

However, more recent comparisons have been made to triathlon's all-conquering Brownlees - there really must be something in the water up in Yorkshire.

Brothers in arms headlines aside, this could even be theme in Tokyo, with Americans Carson and Jake Foster posting some stand-out times in the build-up to their team trials - and they’re also medley specialists. Sibling showdown anyone?

“It’s been a target for us throughout our careers, but this is actually the first time that we’ve been on the same team for one of the biggest competitions,” said Joe, 22.

“There was the Commonwealths in 2018 but Max had to pull out with injury. So, for this to be the first proper time we’ll be alongside each other at senior level is pretty insane. It’s pretty mental and a dream come true.”

The pair spent lockdown together, pounding on the miles on the Watt bike, pushing the pain on the squat rack - which is as painful as it sounds.

They will join a 28-strong team of British swimmers in Japan after strong performances at the British Swimming Selection Trials, Joe finishing under the consideration time in the 200m medley before Max won the 400m version of the same discipline.

In France they call fourth place the ‘médaille en chocolat’ - but Max insists he has plenty of sweet memories from his Olympic debut.

The first Brit to reach a final, he smashed his personal best twice, the experience only heightening his determination for Tokyo. Lichfield 'senior' is now a four-time national 400m medley champion, though his younger brother briefly snatched 'his' title three years ago.

“We’ve joked for years about us going to an Olympic Games together, so for it actually happen is pretty amazing,” he said.

“I was over the moon with fourth in Rio but this time I want to go at least one better and get into the medals. I know I will have to be a bit quicker than the trials but it’s only April so I’ve still got time.”

Having both flirted with football and other sports in their youth both Joe and Max have risen up to the heights of the senior ranks, with the latter notching three European medals - including short course gold - and world silver since agonisingly missing out on the podium in Rio.

While admitting to winding each other up - and sister Grace - on occasion, both are in agreement that the other’s presence close to home serves as a driver to maximise their burgeoning potential.

“We both played football locally, but I dropped it when I was about 13 because I didn’t want to get injured,” Joe said. “We both had a bit of a knack for swimming, so we stuck at it, and it’s paid off.

“Throughout my career I’ve been chasing Max, but as you get older you gradually work your way up to that level and that’s happening now. He’s been great to look up to and learn from, and we’re both proud of each other.

“The Olympics might have been a bit of a longshot for me last year. I think the postponement gave me a platform to move on from, and working hard with Max in Loughborough has just boosted that dynamic.”

“We are competitive and we do argue at times,” Max added. “But we’ve always got along well and we really help drive each other because we don’t want the other one to get ahead.”

Though Grace and their parents won’t be in attendance in Japan the Litchfield brothers are confident their support will be just as prevalent, with virtual meetings and social media set to play a key role in the months ahead.

But the whole family did utilise a rare opportunity to get together following the successful selection trials.

“We all met up for a walk on the beach which was really good for us,” Joe said. “We hadn’t seen them in a long time, so it was great to just get some food and relax while sticking to the Covid-19 restrictions.”

Max added: “It’s disappointing that they won’t be out there - they were all there in Rio and it was a special occasion.

“But it’s the same for everyone and we’re just thankful we can compete. They’ll be watching at home for sure, and we’ll able to stay in touch with them regularly.”

Sportsbeat 2021