By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) - British triathlon fans will be hoping the "Olympic curse" that has derailed the favorites in the six previous Games races will be lifted in August with the host nation boasting both the men's and women's world champion.
When triathlon was introduced at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 the Australians were so confident of success they made the women's race the showpiece event of the first day.
However, hot local hope Michellie Jones had to settle for silver behind surprise winner Brigitte McMahon, setting the tone for all subsequent Olympic triathlons as favorite after favorite failed to deliver the biggest prize in a sport invented only 40 years ago.
Nobody, however, has been such short odds as Britain's remarkable 24-year-old world champion Alistair Brownlee, whose nearest challenger is his 22-year old brother Jonathan.
Alistair is appearing in his second Olympics after briefly threatening a stunning upset win in 2008 before fading in the latter stages of the 10km run that follows a 40km bike and 1500m swim.
Since then, however, the softly-spoken Englishman has taken such a stranglehold on the sport that even former world champions have said they are having to change their approach to try to find a way to compete with his searing run speed.
In 2009 Brownlee lifted the world title by winning all five of the season's championship races he entered.
He was world champion again in 2011 and stamped his authority all over the Olympics with a command performance on the Games test even on the course in and around Hyde Park that will largely be used for the 2012 race.
Apart from the sport's history of Olympic upsets there was a further chink of light for Brownlee's rivals when he missed much of the early season with an Achilles injury but when he roared to victory in his first world championship race last month, the door appeared to be slammed shut.
With Jonathan winning two world championship races in his brother's absence British hopes of a first Olympic triathlon medal are high.
To that end selectors took the controversial decision to select Stuart Hayes as a "domestique" to help protect the Brownlees through the bike leg.
"One of the biggest worries Jonny and I have is that the whole field could be against us," said Alistair. "There could be attacks galore and the domestique would stop that and help keep you safe."
Alexander Bryukhankov, who split the Brownlees for silver in the London test event last year, leads a strong Russian challenge but he, like everyone else in the field, knows he will have to somehow build a lead on the bike if he is to challenge the home town favorite.
On a course with no hills and only a few twists and turns to break up the field, that will be a tall order.
Trying to make such a break will be former world champion Spaniard Javier Gomez, who was favorite in Beijing but finished fourth after struggling with injury.
By the time the men race on August 7 Britain could already by toasting triathlon success with 2008 and 2011 world champion Helen Jenkins in with a great chance in the women's race.
However, Beijing bronze medalist Emma Moffatt, fellow Australian Erin Densham, Canada's Paula Findlay, Swiss Nicola Spirig, New Zealand's Andrea Hewitt and Chile's Barbara Riveros Diaz could all come through on the day.
Missing, however, is 2008 champion Emma Snowshill, who was overlooked by Australia after an injury-hit year.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)