Alex Yee summoned the performance of his young life in the sweltering heat of a Tokyo morning to win a triathlon silver medal for Britain at these Olympic Games. For a few tense minutes, it looked like the 23-year-old was on his way to gold, but he couldn’t match the Norwegian Kristian Blummenfelt’s remarkable closing lap charge.
After the 1500m swim, 40km bike, and three-quarters of the 10km run, the race appeared to be in the balance. But it was then that Blummenfelt, a big 27-year-old from Bergen, booted fiercely and took the lead, which he never gave up.
Before crossing the line in 1:45:04, the Norwegian had time to calm down and give a Viking roar. After a display of incredible tenacity and determination, Yee finished 11 seconds back, with New Zealand’s Hayden Wilde in third.
Following that, Yee punched the air and tried to take everything in. “It’s a little strange,” he said. “I’m just a regular guy from south east London,” says the narrator. It’s true that dreams do come true. On the day, he was the better man, but I was as prepared as I could be.”
Meanwhile, Britain’s Jonny Brownlee, who finished sixth despite battling through extreme heat and high humidity, hailed his comrade, adding, “Alex deserves that medal, he works really hard.”
At the 6.30 a.m. start, there had been drama – and danger – when the gun went off just as a massive camera boat steered into the path of half the field. While they stayed stranded on the shore, the other triathletes dove into the water and swam 150 meters before being forced to come to a halt by a motorboat.
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Vincent Luis, a fan favorite, was among those who had gotten a first taste of the water. It didn’t seem to bother the Frenchman, as he swiftly took the lead in the swim and finished first in 17 minutes and 39 seconds. Brownlee was in 11th place, eight seconds behind Brownlee, and Yee was in 32nd place, 30 seconds behind Brownlee.
Brownlee was able to make his way into the lead group of 11 riders on the 40-kilometer cycling route, but Yee had to work hard at the head of the second group to reduce the deficit.
The long hours paid off. The two groups had got united by the fourth lap of the twisting and exceedingly difficult circuit. On the run, Yee, the fastest triathlete, was in a strong position. He was content to sit back and watch as Andea Salvisberg, a Swiss triathlete, blasted free of the race on the final of eight laps to take a 16-second lead. He had a feeling he’d be able to catch him.
As the field was pared down from 11, to eight, and then to three at the bell, Yee led for the majority of the first three of the four laps in the 10km run. And Yee, the field’s fastest man, was still there. Yee saw the Brownlee brothers duke it out in London 2012 nine years ago. Now he’d be the one competing for a medal.