England’s Alex Yee wins first gold medal of Commonwealth Games in triathlon
In the quiet, woody surrounds of Sutton Park, seven miles north of Birmingham proper, the Commonwealth Games erupted into life as the first medal was seized by one of England’s brightest stars. Alex Yee, the 24 year-old Olympic silver medallist, pulled off a masterful comeback to outrun New Zealand’s Hayden Wilde and mark himself as the Commonwealth champion.
“This is a home Games, it’s the first time I’ve been able to race in front of my parents for a long time,” said a breathless Yee afterwards. “And at a major Games. I’d probably say that it’s my greatest achievement ever.”
This was always going to be a tense, quality duel between two of the best triathletes in the world, with Wilde standing as Yee’s nemesis in Tokyo, triumphing over him to win the Olympic gold medal.
It was Wilde who set the tone and standard by producing a thunderous 750m swim in the vast Powell’s Pool at the foot of the park. He finished the swim in third place, the leading pack of three with Jamie Riddle of South Africa and New Zealand’s Tayler Reid immediately distancing themselves.
As Yee emerged from his swim 15 seconds from the lead, embedded within the main pack, he was charged with the task of chasing down the leaders in the 20km cycle. As they breezed through Sutton Park and the lively Boldmere High Street, thousands of spectators lined almost every section of the course, cheering the triathletes as they moved past.
It was far from easy. After the first lap of the cycle, the gap for Wilde’s leading group actually increased, reaching 21 seconds, which Yee could only pull back down to 16 seconds as the 5km run started.
“I never gave up, I knew this course is tough, the hill can kill you every single time so for me I knew that if I was able to push on that hill there was a chance I would catch him,” said Yee.
Over the course of his short career, Yee has established himself as arguably the best runner in the sport and bit by bit he dramatically pulled back the leaders. First he breezed past Riddle and Reid, then the gap between himself and Wilde dramatically fell. By the end of the first lap, 19 seconds became seven. Before long, he was right on Wilde’s right shoulder, ready to pounce.
What would have ended as a dramatic sprint finish, with Yee in the ascendancy, was ultimately a rout. Wilde had received a 10 second penalty for improperly putting his cycling helmet down during the final transition, a fatal blow. As Yee moved past him, Wilde gave his rival a high five and watched as he marched on to win his first Commonwealth Games gold medal, an achievement unlocked in 50 minutes, 34 seconds. Despite the penalty, Wilde held on for silver, with Matthew Hauser of Australia taking bronze.
“It’s a bit of a fairytale isn’t it? I’ve worked hard for this,” said Yee. “This is my big race of the year and I’m proud I was able to do it for Team England, my friends, my family. Hopefully seeing this many new countries, this is the start for more people to be involved in this sport.”