Alex Yee stormed to silver in the men's individual race at his Olympic debut at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
After an unexpected false start, when the racing got under way in Odaiba Bay, Jonny Brownlee was in a typical strong position as the lead group from each side of the pontoon merged at the first buoy.
A long 950m lap would be followed by a exit and re-entry from the pontoon and a shorter 550m lap. The swim took on a steady rhythm for most of the 1,500m and, lead by Vincent Luis (FRA), saw a distinct lead pack emerge at the start of the bike leg which also included Brownlee, Tyler Mislawchuk (CAN) and Japanese athlete Kenji Nener.
This small group of around a dozen jostled for position early on in the 40km, meanwhile Yee was working hard at the front of the chase pack to reduce the gap. The bike course encompassed eight laps of 5km around Odaiba Marine Park, with tight bends and narrow sections requiring constant focus from the athletes.
As lap-by-lap went by, the lead was reduced, with Yee and the athletes from Norway pushing the pace among the chasers who caught up around the midway point on the bike. With a large group now navigating the tight and technical bike course, the two Brits sat in and rode with the group despite breakaways from Stefan Zachaus (LUX), who was brought back by the group, and Andrea Salvisberg (SUI) who had a 14 second lead exiting T2.
Onto the run, and Yee and Brownlee were both well-placed as Salvisberg was swept up and passed by a strong group of runners which also included Kristian Blummenfelt (NOR), Hayden Wilde (NZL) and Marten Van Riel (BEL).
Four laps around Odaiba would determine the Olympic champion with Yee showing his strength by taking up the position at the front. What started as a group of nine would reduce with the heat and the pace of the leaders, dropping a couple of athletes at a time until only Brownlee, Yee, Blummenfelt and Wilde remained.
At the end of the penultimate lap, Brownlee started to be dropped by the other three and the only question remaining was who would stand where on the podium. The pace increased and, with more than half the final lap to go, the Norwegian made a determined break.
Yee followed, however Blummenfelt found that extra gear to charge clear and, with a look of disbelief at what he was about to achieve, entered the finish chute to lift the tape. Yee, equally in awe of his own achievement, crossed the line 11 seconds later to claim silver on his Olympic debut and Team GB's second silver of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
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 2 Olympic Games with two medals and now I have performed well in 3. 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.”
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