In the early hours of Monday 26 July 2021, Team GB’s Alex Yee joined a small but illustrious group of GB Olympic triathlon medallists, collecting silver in his first-ever Olympic Games.
After taking his maiden World Triathlon Championship Series win in emphatic style back in June, in Leeds, British hopes were firmly pinned to the 2018 British 10k champion going into the Tokyo event. Add to that, the reigning Olympic champion and GB superstar Alistair Brownlee had failed to qualify, while his two-time Olympic medallist brother Jonny was just off podium form.
The race played into the 23-year-old’s hands perfectly despite a false start and exiting the 1.5k swim down in 32nd place out of 51 athletes. Fortuitously, he had several strong bikers for company, namely the Norwegian trio of Kristian Blummenfelt, Gustav Iden and Caspar Stornes, who together pushed the chase-pack pace to bridge the gap to the leaders by the halfway mark.
As almost the entire field navigated the tight and technical 40km bike course, Yee and Brownlee could sit in and conserve some much-needed energy for what would prove to be one of the hottest 10k Olympic triathlon run legs of all time.
Switching to the final discipline, Yee soon found his way to the front as one by one the race’s biggest contenders succumbed to the heat. Reining world champion and race favourite Vincent Luis of France was the first to drop from the front group, eventually leaving Brownlee, Yee, Blummenfelt and NZ’s Hayden Wilde to decide the final podium places.
At the end of the penultimate lap, Brownlee started to fall back, leaving the final three to race to the line. Yee looked the strongest of the three, but Blummenfelt’s unorthodox run style should never be underestimated, and, with half a lap to go, the 27-year-old Norweigian made his break for gold.
Yee followed, but Blummenfelt dug just that little deeper into his more experienced reserves to charge clear and, with a look of disbelief at what he was about to achieve, entered the finish chute to lift the tape following the fastest 10k of the day in 29:34mins. Yee, looking equally as bewildered as to what was happening, crossed the line 11 seconds later (with the second-fastest 10k split of 29:44mins) to claim silver on his Olympic debut and Team GB’s sixth Olympic triathlon medal (Ali Brownlee – 2; Jonny Brownlee – 2; Vicky Holland – 1).
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After the race, Yee said, “It hasn’t really sunk in quite yet, it doesn’t feel real like it’s me yet. I still feel like a normal boy from south east London. I hope I can serve as inspiration to people to show this is possible. I’m not anything special, I just really enjoy sport and have been really lucky.
“I think I probably timed it a bit wrong and left it a bit late to close the gap to Kristian. Once I got halfway across it, I think I was pretty cooked and I started to feel the heat. I had a good heat strategy and felt comfortable up to that point, but Kristian was the man on the day. I was on the start line with the clarity that I’d done everything I physically could have to get to that line in the best possible shape. I’ve had the best possible preparation I could have, I know a lot of people haven’t, so I’m really lucky in that sense. Second was the best possible result for me on the day.
“For me, I’ve learnt that I don’t want to be a passive racer. That’s not the person I want to be, I want to take the race to people. I don’t want circumstances and luck to force my hand, I want to do it myself. If that meant I wasn’t a good enough runner on the day, that’s what it is. I wouldn’t change anything and I get a bit more respect that way.”
Brownlee finished in fifth place and commented: “It was unbelievably tough. I tried to get ahead in the break in the swim, worked really hard but then got caught up . On the run it’s come down to 18 months of preparation and that’s what happened. I gave it everything I could, don’t think I can ask for much better than that. I got to be proud of myself. I gave it absolutely everything. Trained as hard as I could. Raced as hard as I could.
“I told myself last night is all I can do is try my hardest and before that – prepare. I did everything I could, prepared in the heat, trained as hard as I could and had a great team around me and that’s all I can ask. I have been very fortunate at my other two Olympic Games with two medals and now I have performed well in three. Not quite good enough to get three medals yet but we’ve got a good chance on Saturday [mixed relay].
“This will definitely be my last Olympics after Saturday. I want to get a medal on Saturday, we’ve got a good strong team.
“Then I want to go to long distance racing and enjoy that for a couple of years.”
Don’t miss the women’s race at 10:30 BST on Monday 26 July (6:30am local time, Tuesday 27 July), and the first ever Olympic mixed relay triathlon at 11:30pm BST on Friday 30 July (7:30am local time, Saturday 28 July).