Fresh-faced, unassuming, and looking shy of his tender 23 years, Great Britain’s Alex Yee’s appearance can be deceptive. A double Olympic medalist after gold and silver in Tokyo in the mixed relay and individual events, respectively, Yee is arguably the most-feared triathlete on the planet right now.
If there’s one rival the field does not want in contention when leaving T2, it’s the fleet-of-foot Yee from London. Yet despite such prodigious talent, particularly on the run, he remains in awe at what he’s achieved.
“It’s a bit bizarre that it’s me doing this,” was his reaction to crossing the line behind Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt for individual silver in Tokyo. “I’m just a normal guy from southeast London. But dreams really do come true.”
In many ways, the enormity of the achievement still has not sunk in. “There’s still a massive sense of disbelief about what happened,” he said. “I keep looking at my medals to prove to myself that they’re real.” Those emotions extend to his father, Ron, and mother, Emma. “We were quite stunned,” Ron said. “We believed in him, but we couldn’t quite believe it happened.”
Yee admits the year’s delay to the Games helped his chances. A runner-up finish in a World Series race in Abu Dhabi in 2019, and fifth place in what became a default world championship in Hamburg last year, underlined his potential, but it was the early summer races of 2021 that showed he was ready to step onto an Olympic podium.
“I felt my performance in Leeds to qualify was my best to date,” he said of victory in the final World Series Championship-level race ahead of the Olympics, which gave him a glorious send-off in front of a home crowd. “I then prepared the best I could, and stood on the start line knowing I’d done everything I could to produce a performance to be proud of. The impact it had on the community I grew up in, and their messages of support, will put a smile on my face for years to come.”
His youth was spent training with Crystal Palace Triathletes, where his father introduced him to the sport as a nine-year-old. Training under the watchful eye of head coach Jon Horsman and Paul Eaglestone, winnings were made of boxes of candy that would be shared with everyone anyway.
“There have been a fair few people along the way to thank, from just starting out as a way to blow off some steam to now,” Yee said. “Without doubt I have to start with my parents. As role models, they taught me determination and humility.”
Ron recalled watching London 2012 as a turning point. “Before that Alex was just enthusiastic,” he said. “After the Olympics, we thought: ‘It’s a big deal, and quite a nice lifestyle. People do this for real!’ It would be Alex waking me up early in the morning for training—the motivation was all his.”
Yee joined the track and field program at Kent Athletics Club when he was 16 to hone the smooth running style that has since become his trademark, and there’s a sense that the track side would dearly have loved to have kept him within their ranks. Even as recently as 2018, he became the British 10,000m champion, where he set a PR of 27:51.94, a time that surpasses anything achieved by other world-leading triathletes. For context, Alistair Brownlee’s PR over 10K on the track is 28:32.48.
Ken Pike, the veteran coach at the club, recalled Yee joining. “In three weeks, he was beating two current England internationals. It requires a quiet steeliness and unflappability—and he appears to be unflappable.”
Yee’s first love always remained triathlon, but it hasn’t been a linear path to the top. Lapped out of a regional tri race as a junior, he devoted himself to training at the local Herne Hill velodrome and cutting his teeth with serious cyclists, building the bike legs seen in the Olympic mixed team relay when two-time world champion Vincent Luis, of France, attacked on the anchor leg. The thought in Yee’s mind? “There is no way I’m losing this wheel!” He didn’t, and when they reached T2 together, he knew he wasn’t losing gold either.
Greeting him at that finish line was teammate Jonny Brownlee, who has known longer than most how much potential Yee has: “I’ve seen him come up through the ranks the last few years and I always knew he was an incredible athlete. He works ridiculously hard and is unbelievably talented. Alex has said one of the main things that inspired him was watching us in London 2012. The fact that a young athlete saw us race on home soil and has now won his two Olympic medals means a lot to me.”
Yee spent three years in Leeds, where he combined elite training with studying for a degree in sport and exercise science. That time in the Brownlees’ backyard ended with a move to Loughborough, where he also credits coach Adam Elliott and girlfriend, fellow British elite triathlete Liv Mathias, for his continued development. “It’s motivating to work hard with Liv and grow together,” he said.
Unlike the Brownlees, Yee will not be turning to long-course any time soon. In August, he finished 11th in Edmonton hoping to win a first World Triathlon world title, and is now in a month of Super League Triathlon racing. And from there, it’s all eyes on Paris 2024, where he’s now installed as an early favorite for gold. If the year’s delay for Tokyo suited him, a three-year wait for the next one should play into his hands even more.