Brownlee did not realise he had been disqualified for 'ducking a rival' until later in the race

Credit: PA

Alistair Brownlee, the most successful Olympic triathlete in history, has effectively called time on his own Olympic career, tweeting a message of good luck to the athletes selected for the Tokyo Games later this summer. 

Brownlee’s hopes of winning a third straight Olympic crown were dashed after he was controversially disqualified from Sunday’s World Triathlon Championship Series race in Leeds for “ducking” a rival during the swim leg.

The 33 year-old denied having purposely pushed American Chase McQueen under the water, insisting it was just a regular coming together and adding that “as bad was done to me 10 seconds before and 10 seconds after”.

The truth is it did not make any difference. Brownlee did not realise he had been disqualified until the final lap of the run leg, and actually finished the race, but did not have the legs to compete at the sharp end. Meanwhile, the man he was battling against to secure the one remaining men’s spot in the British team for Tokyo won in emphatic fashion.

The emotion was plain to see on the face of Alex Yee at the finish line

Credit: PA

Alex Yee, a 23-year-old Londoner, idolised Brownlee growing up. A world class 10,000 metres runner with a personal best of 27min 51.94sec, Yee’s swimming has improved markedly in recent years. After he emerged from the swim leg in the pack, he managed to bridge to the lead group on the bike before leaving them all in his dust on the run, winning by 25 seconds from American Morgan Pearson.

Afterwards Brownlee took to social media, admitting he was "embarrassed" over his disqualification in what was his last World Triathlon series race before praising Yee’s "outstanding" performance and wishing the team well for Tokyo.

That’s not how I wanted my last World Triathlon series race to pan out. I’ve struggled with an ankle injury for three months and have done everything possible to get it better and stay fit for racing. I knew I needed a lot of luck today and it wasn’t to be.

— Alistair Brownlee (@AliBrownleetri) June 6, 2021

Mike Cavendish, British Triathlon’s performance director, all but admitted that Yee had done enough to warrant selection, having also finished fourth at last month’s Yokohama test event.

“It [Yee’s performance] was outstanding,” Cavendish said. “To do it on home soil in the last Olympic distance race before the Olympics is a big statement.”

Commonwealth champion Jodie Stimpson told the BBC she felt both Yee and Jonny Brownlee, who finished ninth yesterday and whose Tokyo qualification is secure, could finish on the podium in Japan.

“I’ve seen the effort [Yee] has put into his swim at Loughborough,” she said. “Before he was the ‘runner that was coming into triathlon’. What a threat he is now. He’s a world class runner, and now he’s officially a world class triathlete. It’s been coming.”

The king is dead long live the king. After three Games, two gold medals and countless world and European titles, Brownlee’s Olympic race is seemingly run.

He switched his focus to Ironman after the last Olympics before returning for one last “roll of the dice”, but has struggled in recent months with an ankle injury. He described Sunday’s race as a “bittersweet” moment, with crowds he did so much to inspire lining the route to wish him well.

“I had to finish today because I’m pretty sure that was my last-ever World Series race,” he said. “I always knew it was going to be a struggle. I’ve really struggled over the past few months with injury. I needed a bit of a miracle today. I needed a bit of luck and I didn’t get it.”

There is still a possibility that Britain could qualify for a third spot if they send a team to Mexico next week and Tom Bishop produces a big performance to get into the top 30 in the rankings. But Bishop could finish only 16th on Sunday. And there was a distinct changing-of-the-guard feeling to proceedings in Roundhay Park.

Brownlee will now refocus on Ironman, with an unofficial world record attempt in the offing next year. He said he did not regret giving it one last crack.

"Over the last three months, I’ve really asked myself why I’m trying to go to the Olympics,” Brownlee admitted. “A friend pointed out to me that that’s the beauty of the Olympics. At the end of the day that’s why I’m here… I could have walked away and done long distance triathlon but I’m here because I love it and I wanted one more roll of the dice as it were. It didn’t work out. On the other hand, I’m very very thankful I’ve had lots of great races here and in triathlon generally.”

Yee, meanwhile, paid tribute to Brownlee in his post-race interview. “That’s probably the best feeling I’ve ever had in my life,” he said. “Whatever happens, I have so much respect for Alistair and Tom [Bishop] and all the guys who I’m battling against. They’re the greatest people in the sport, they’re my mentors, they’ve helped me grow, they’ve really taught me a lot of things. I’m so grateful to them. The best person will go [to Tokyo]. I trust in the governing body to make the right decision.”

In the women’s race, Britain’s Jess Learmonth finished runner-up to Holland’s Maya Kingma. Sophie Coldwell and Lucy Charles-Barclay were third and fifth respectively, while Beth Potter took seventh.