Alex Yee produced a devastating run leg at WTCS Leeds to win a World Series race for the first time and make the strongest of claims for selection to the British Olympic team for Tokyo.
But there was also controversy as two-time Olympic champion Alistair Brownlee was disqualified in his hometown race for unsportsmanlike conduct in the swim after footage showed him ducking US triathlete Chase McQueen.
On a new course that was predominantly all within Leeds’ Roundhay Park but no less testing than the previous city centre route, Yee took the tape in 1:43:27 – a comfortable 25sec clear of USA’s Morgan Pearson, with Belgium’s Marten van Riel continuing his impressive form of 2021 to finish third.
Britain’s Jonny Brownlee was ninth, Tom Bishop 16th and Sam Dickinson 23rd on WTCS debut, and while Bishop’s performance was his best of 2021, it still leaves British hopes of gaining a third spot for the individual event in Tokyo hanging by a thread. There is one final points scoring opportunity in a second tier World Cup race in Mexico next weekend.
Whether it ends up being one of two British men that join Jonny Brownlee on the Olympic team, Yee was simply elated to have claimed the win after a fourth-placed finish in Yokohama in May.
“That’s probably the best feeling I’ve ever had in my life,” the 23-year-old from London said. “It was so special to do it in front of the fans – that was for all of them. I felt like my legs were flowing. It’s hard to explain, but I just felt really good.”
As for the impending Olympic selection decision. “The best person will go as I trust in the governing body to make the right decision. Whatever happens I have so much respect for Alistair and Tom. They are my mentors and have helped me grow.”
Having won in Italy last weekend, Jonny Brownlee was hoping to produce a stronger performance in front of a sell-out 4,000 crowd. “It was better than Yokohama, but still not great,” he said. “Fair play to Yee boy though, that was incredible, and I’m sure it was the first win of many.”
Before Brownlee’s DQ it looked as if the biggest drama in Roundhay Park’s Waterloo Lake would be the disqualification of Richard Varga – a regular pacesetter off the pontoon – for swimming the wrong side of a buoy. It was a big blow for the Slovakian who still needs to accrue points to make Tokyo.
Both Brownlees, Yee and Bishop were all in close contention coming out of the water, but it was Alistair Brownlee who emerged first from T1 and assailed the first hill looking fleetingly like his old dominant self of the past decade.
Gordon Benson and Grant Sheldon both pulled out as did London 2012 silver medallist Javier Gomez after a bike spill that brought back memories of the crash that put him out of action just weeks before the Rio 2016 Olympics.
A large pack came together on the hilly course before Sam Dickinson broke away in the latter part of the nine-lap 37.9km bike leg, at first trying to drag Bishop with him, before going it alone. Dickinson’s lead was whittled away before T2, which left a final 10km where Yee and New Zealand’s Hayden Wilde soon emerged at the front.
Pearson and Van Riel came through for second and third as Wilde dropped to fourth, but as Yee looked imperious with a 29:46 run split, the rest struggled to stay in contention. This included Alistair Brownlee who has been struggling with an ankle injury for the past three months and only found out late in the race that he’d been disqualified for unsportsmanlike behaviour in the swim.
“It was a really tough day and I only knew I was disqualified on the last lap so it was a bitter end to it,” he said. “I’m pretty sure that will be my last World Series race. I always knew it’d be a struggle. I’ve really struggled over the last three to four months with an injury and needed a bit of a miracle today.
“I’ve done everything I can over the last three months, trained as hard as I can, had the best support team and medical treatment. I needed a bit of luck and I didn’t get it.”
If it proves to be his last World Series race and the end of Brownlee’s Olympic story, it was a sad denouement to an unrivalled short course career for Britain’s greatest ever triathlete.
Image Credit: World Triathlon/Tommy Zaferes