Alex Yee congratulates triathlon winner Kristian Blummenfelt

Credit: Reuters

Olympics20 – quick stats – article

Britain’s grip on the Olympic men’s triathlon is over – but only just.

Four years ago, Alex Yee posted a message to himself on social media: “Do your best in what you love and maybe one day you’ll be the greatest.”

For so long it looked as though he was about to deliver on those words by following in Alistair Brownlee’s footsteps and becoming Olympic champion. That he ended up with silver behind Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt was a significant achievement.

Yee, a supremely talented track runner, had a plan that was evident to everyone before they even landed in Tokyo. It is the same in every triathlon race he contests. Stay as close as he can on the swim, stay as close as he can on the bike … and then go.

To have come so close to delivering it to perfection on the biggest stage of all is some effort for a 23-year-old at his debut Olympics.

The day had begun with chaotic scenes when a speedboat containing television cameras prevented half the field from diving in at the sound of the starting hooter.

While dozens of competitors stood still on the pontoon, the other half swam all of 150 metres before another boat was dispatched to send them back to the start.

Half of the field stand on the pontoon with the other half in the water

Credit: Telescans

Thankfully there were no such problems at the second time of asking and it was Jonny Brownlee who emerged first of the two-strong British contingent from the 1.5km Tokyo Bay swim, 10 seconds behind the leader, with Yee a further 20 seconds back as he jumped on his bike.

By the time they were halfway through the 40km cycle, a group of 37 athletes had developed into one pack at the front. It had become anyone’s race; an equal playing field for more than half of those who started the race.

As a teenager, Yee ran the fastest 5,000m for a British junior since 1981 – quicker than Mo Farah. By the time he was 20, he posted the second-fastest UK parkrun time in history. Now it was a question of whether he could use his pedigree to get on the Olympic podium.

From the front, he dictated proceedings and attempted to stretch the field out. At halfway in the 10km run, there were eight remaining. As he entered for the final 2.5km lap it was down to three: Yee, Blummenfelt and Hayden Wilde, of New Zealand. It was no longer a case of whether he would win a medal, but what colour it would be.

When Blummenfelt struck for home, Yee could not respond. Victory for the Norwegian came in 1hr 45min 4sec. Yee was only 11 seconds behind.

Kristian Blummenfelt crosses the winning line

Credit: Reuters

It capped a remarkable recovery from a brutal crash in 2017 that had inflicted long-lasting physical damage on Yee. It occurred when he hit a concrete bollard at high speed while out on his bike in Cagliari, Italy, and was knocked unconscious. The crash fractured his ribs and vertebrae, as well as giving him a collapsed lung. He was in hospital for a month.

In 2018, he won the British 10,000m title and showed he would be a name to watch in Tokyo by winning the final World Series race in Leeds last month. That victory, he said, wiped any doubts he had about not belonging among the world’s elite. He was worthy, and now has an Olympic silver medal to prove it.

Mention also must go to Brownlee, who battled hard for fifth place after gaining bronze in 2012 and silver in 2016. But the Brownlee era is over. Welcome to the Yee years.