The Borlee family: From Moscow 1980 to Tokyo 2020

For some athletes, the Olympics are a family affair, as siblings, cousins and even spouses chase a single dream. In the second of a new series about Olympic families, Tokyo 2020 take a look at Belgium's Borlee family, who are hoping to shine in the 400m and 4x400 relay at this summer’s Games.

Picture by 2018 Getty Images

The deets

  • Names: Kevin, Jonathan (twins) and Dylan
  • Relationship: Brothers
  • Country: Belgium
  • Sport: Athletics

Watching three Borlee brothers line up for Belgium in the Rio 2016 4x400m relay event while knowing that their father ran the 400m at Moscow 1980, you would assume the sons had always dreamt about following in their father’s footsteps.

But, in fact, you’d be wrong.

That responsibility goes to their sister, Olivia, who won an Olympic gold medal at Beijing 2008 in the women’s 4x100m relay and was Belgium’s flagbearer at Rio 2016. The now-retired 35-year-old dusted off an old family tradition at the beginning of the century that kick-started a haul of 43 international championship medals, which were won along with twin brothers Kevin and Jonathan (33-years-old) and younger brother Dylan (28-years-old).

"The greatest of the family," Olympian Jacques Borlee, father and coach of his sons, said about Dylan in an exclusive interview with Tokyo 2020, while standing behind the three boys in a hotel in Turkey.

Kevin and Jonathan made their Olympic debuts at Beijing 2008, both finishing 4th in the men's 4x400m final at only 20 years of age. "The best race of our lives," remembered the twins.

Dylan joined them in the Belgian relay team at Rio 2016, as they finished fourth - the hardest position for an athlete - again.

The brothers don't yet have an Olympic medal, which is something they intend to address at Tokyo 2020, both in the men's 4x400m relay and the new Olympic 4x400m mixed relay event.

Before that, they will compete in the 2021 World Athletics Relay Championship on 1-2 May, in Silesia, Poland.

In the meanwhile, here’s a deep look at this family of Olympians, from how they started to what the Olympics mean to them, the pressure the younger brother feels with three older siblings who have performed at the highest level and the challenge posed by the Ingebrigtsen family.

In their own words

Jonathan on Kevin

He's the biggest perfectionist. He knows himself so well than he can create the best conditions.

Kevin on Jacques, his father

He's is such an open person, with a constant will to learn. He knows that he doesn't know everything, even with the great experience he has.

Dylan on Jonathan

He knows where he is and doesn't need to do much to perform.

Jacques on Dylan

He is the greatest. He has improved a lot and I think this is his year. It's amazing to see how he can progress alongside his two brothers.

How the Borlee's Olympic story began

Kevin

Our parents were both into athletics, but our elder sister Olivia inspired us to step onto the track. After the 2002 European Championships, she was inspired by Kim Gevaert, who won silver in the 100m and 200m, and she wanted to start with athletics. Two years later, we followed.

At that time, our father wasn’t involved in the athletics world, but when Olivia started, because he knew how things worked, he did everything he could to put her in the best position to express herself. That’s how it all began. 

Jacques

I was a tennis, basketball and football coach at that time but Olivia asked me to manage her. Back then, Kevin and Jonathan were playing football and wanted to turn professional. But the Olympic spirit has taken over.

How to succeed when you have talented brothers 

Dylan

I didn't feel a lot of pressure because I've been well protected by my brothers, sister and father. Of course, there was pressure and a lot of comparisons. Unconsciously, it certainly played a role. It's not always easy to make your way when you have brothers who are at the highest level.

I’m working every day to move forward and create my own story. Of course, there is a family history, but there’s something you can’t ignore - athletics is an individual sport. That’s the story of life and I’m learning every day. 

Jacques

Dylan is the greatest. He has a tremendous amount of skill and is constantly searching for ways to express himself in the manner he wants to. Growing up with his brothers, who have performed at the highest level, isn’t easy. He needed his own name to matter and he is talented enough to accept this and go further. He has improved a lot and I think this is his year. It’s amazing to see how he can progress alongside his brothers.

An Olympic family

Kevin

In 2006, we were told that our goal was London 2012, but we wanted to go to Beijing. I’ve looked back at Atlanta 1996 since I was a child, as we had lots of goodies and t-shirts. I always had the Games at the back of my mind. The World Championships and football World Cup aren’t the same. They [the Olympics] were engraved on our minds. 

Beijing was a dream we fulfilled and we hope others will be fulfilled at Tokyo 2020. At Rio 2016, there were five of us - our father, Olivia, Jonathan, Dylan and me. Being able to share those moments will be something to remember forever. 

Jacques

The Olympics are magic. The mixture of people brings about an extraordinary spirit. Different sports, dozens of nationalities… when we’re in the Athletes’ Village and we can eat with a Chilean or a Japanese person, it’s just pure magic. Those 10,000 athletes, all with an amazing dream they want to fulfil… it’s unforgettable. 

Dylan

When I came back from Rio, I had to calm myself down for two or three days to recover from the ambiance. We were in the Athletes’ Village for more than a week. In our world, that’s fantastic.

Borlee_Dylan_Kevin
Picture by 2017 Getty Images

The most beautiful race of the twin brothers’ careers

Jonathan

The Beijing 2008 men's 4x400m relay was a blast. I got a kick out of it. I hope I’ll be able to run again with that level of fluidity, with that state of mind…

Jacques

Before the race, I actually took Jonathan by the neck and told him, 'well, you do whatever you want but I want you to be in second place after 600m.' And that what happened.

Kevin

It was my first experience at the highest level and I felt like everything was easy. When we made the Olympic 4x400 relay final, when nobody thought we could do anything, and we were second behind the USA for three laps… The Belgian athlete Tia Hellebaut, who won gold in the high jump, was warming up right in front of me when I was waiting for the baton. I was euphoric. It was the last event, we were up against the best in the world and we were only 20.

What about the Norwegian Ingebrigtsen family, who are also aiming to shine in Tokyo?

Jacques

I don't know Henrik, Filip and Jakob Ingebrigtsen personally, but we'd be happy to race a 4x400m relay between the Borlee and Ingebrigtsen families!

GO OLYMPIC. GET ALL THIS.

Free live sport events. Unlimited access to series. Unrivalled Olympic news & highlights.