Olympics 2021: Alex Yee takes triathlon baton from Brownlee brothers with silver medal in Tokyo

The 23-year-old’s silver medal marked the end of one of Great Britain’s most powerful Olympic dynasties

Tom Harle
Monday 26 July 2021 14:28
Tom Daley and Matty Lee celebrate gold in syncronised 10m diving.mp4

Arise a new king of British triathlon - or, as Alex Yee puts it, “a normal boy from southeast London”.

The 23-year-old’s silver medal in Tokyo marks the end of one of the nation’s powerful Olympic dynasties, with the Brownlee brothers shifting their star power to Ironman racing.

Jonny finished fifth here, coming up short of a third Olympic medal by almost 30 seconds, with two-time gold medallist Alistair one of the few watching in the stands. The significance of the moment, a changing of the guard, wasn’t lost on either of them.

“Alex has got the ability to dominate the sport now,” said Jonny. “People are going to need to work hard to beat him, because if they’re not careful he’s going to win lots and lots of races.

“He’s converted himself into a great all-round triathlete and he deserves that. Anyone who’s watched the sport over the last few years, they’ll know that wasn’t a shock. They’ve seen this coming.”

Yee is such a good runner that the back pages of the late editions of the national newspapers were held when he hit the front of the race with 7km to go. All the pieces fell into place – if Yee was at the front and on his feet, Team GB’s first gold of the Games was a sure shot. But it ended just as it did in May’s World Series race in Yokohama, with Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt, the hardest-training athlete in the sport, surging past Yee to triumph by 11 seconds.

“I think I probably timed it a bit wrong and left it a bit late to close the gap to Kristian,” Yee reflected. “Once I got halfway across to him I think I was cooked and I started to feel the heat. I had a good heat strategy and felt comfortable, but Kristian was the man on the day.”

The world’s top triathletes had waited five years for their Olympic chance but needed to hold on a further five minutes after a farcical false start. Half of the field, including Yee and Brownlee, were obstructed by a camera boat and several covered 100 metres back on to the pontoon.

Yee’s swim was solid, if unspectacular, putting him 30 seconds behind the leader Vincent Luis. The Catford lad’s relationship with his bike has been a chequered one over the years, punctuated by lessons learned and a brutal crash in 2017 that nearly curtailed his career.

His confidence is now at a point where he is bossing bike groups containing the sport’s big names, and he subscribes to the peloton code of ethics that makes “sitting on” a cardinal sin.

Yee took a big turn at the front of the chasing pack on the first bike lap to try to take the sting out of Luis’s lead, splitting 6:52 for the first 5km. It was successful, with the race merging into a messy group of 28. Whether it sapped him of energy for the crucial run, he scarcely cared.

“I’ve learned that I don’t want to be a passive racer,” said Yee. “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.”

We may see a Brownlee race the Olympic distance again, with Jonny entered in the World Triathlon Grand Final in Edmonton, Canada, in August. Whether we do or not, eyes will be on Britain’s new favourite son in swim, bike, run.

“Jonny still came fifth – that’s pretty incredible,” said Yee, whose race was broadcast live on Eurosport and Discovery+. “It’s hard to say what those guys will do. All I’d say is that legends never die.

“They’ve created a legacy for our sport. Triathlon wasn’t what it was before they started. Now it’s got the platform that it has and I hope I can do the same for the sport.”

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