By Mitch Phillips
TOKYO (Reuters) – Britain’s Alistair Brownlee was a hot. His absence from Tokyo means a good half of the field, including his younger brother Jonny, will hit the water on Monday, believing they can win.
COVID-19 disruptions and a shortage ofform difficult to establish, and if the Games had gone ahead on schedule last year, Frenchman Vincent Luis, world champion in 2019 and 2020, would have been the man to beat.
Having finished 11th in 2012 and seventh in 2016, Luis is an experienced Olympic competitor, but with a wave of young talent now knocking at the door, that might not be enough. Luis looked like a positive rookie alongside 38-year-old Spaniard Javier Gomez, a silver medallist in 2012. He was ruled out of Rio after a bike crash, and though he seems like a long shot for a medal, it will be an emotional return.
“I wish I were a bit younger to be better, but I still think I have my chances,” the five-time world champion said this years later.. “I’ve done everything in my career, this is just a bonus, and I’m going to go for it.” Gomez edged Jonny Brownlee for second place in 2012, with Brownlee adding a silver to his bronze four
Now,without the shadow of big Brother Alistair, Jonny finds himself among the old guard fighting off the next generation. In the last ITU before the Games in Leeds, England, he got a stark reminder of that when fellow Briton Alex Yee finally delivered on years of promise with a searing victory that propelled him into real medal contention in Tokyo.
If the 23-year-old Yee can stay in contention on the swim and bike, he has the speed — he was the British 10,000m champion on the track in 2018 — that could rip him through the field.
Yee said recently that he struggled to feel he deserved to line up alongside the sport’s elite for a while, but his Leeds win wiped away any lingering doubts. “I think it was a massive step – I was the most relaxed I’ve ever been heading into a race,” Yee told the triathlon news website tri247.com.
“I didn’t let the race come to me; I tried to define my race, which I was most proud of.” Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt, who was on fire in the early stages of the season, will probably need to build a healthy bikeoff the likes of Yee and American Morgan Pearson, the latest to try to earn a first Olympic men’s medal for the country that invented the sport.
The race starts at 6.30 a.m. local time but is still expected to be warm. The 40km, the eight-lap bike course is flat and technical, but without any notable hills to break things up, there is a strong chance of a huge pack coming into the final transition together when it will all come down to the 10km run. It is an unconventional course in that the 11,500-meter swim consists of one long lap and one short.
If Yee is among them, he will take some beating, but the unpredictable nature of the sport – pre-Brownlee, at least –victoriously. Canada’s Tyler Mislawchuk won the course in 2019, New Zealander Hayden Wilde, Australian Jacob Birtwhistle, South Africa’s Rio bronze medallist Henri Schoeman even veteran Spaniard Mario Mola will count themselves in that group. (Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Peter Rutherford)