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.”
Yee was followed on the podium by England’s Georgia Taylor-Brown and Scotland’s Beth Potter, who won silver and bronze respectively. However, neither could match the enduring dominance of Flora Duffy, now a two-time Commonwealth Games gold medalist after becoming Bermuda’s first ever Olympic gold medalist last year.
The men’s event was always going to be a tense, quality duel between two of the best triathletes in the world, with Yee and Wilde finishing with silver and bronze in Tokyo. Wilde set the bar high 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 alongside Jamie Riddle of South Africa and New Zealand’s Tayler Reid.
As Yee emerged from his swim 16th and 15 seconds from the lead, he was charged with the task of chasing down the leaders in the 20km cycle. The triathletes breezed through Sutton Park and the lively Boldmere High Street, thousands of spectators lining the streets and cheering the triathletes as they moved past.
“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 his short career, Yee has established himself as arguably the best runner in the sport. Bit by bit he dramatically pulled back the leaders’ 16-second advantage. 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.
A dramatic chase ended in a rout as Wilde 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. 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.”
Duffy’s victory was similarly the product of a wicked duel between Olympic gold and silver medalists. First she and Taylor-Brown emerged at the front after the swim, then they worked together to distance themselves from the pack with some searing cycling.
“It’s really special,” said Duffy. “I was kind of laughing in a moment when it was us two off the front. I was like, ‘Of course it’s us.’ Gold and silver from last year, rivals. But also, I think we have a great friendship as well which is really special. We can smash each other out on the course but we’re the first to congratulate one another as soon as we cross the line.”
As they both transitioned to the run side-by-side, Duffy made her move. She quickly established a five second gap over her nearest rival, and over the rest of the 5km run she eviscerated the field. Duffy finished her triathlon in 55 minutes, 25 seconds, 41 seconds over her nearest rival in Taylor-Brown.
“It’s quite special, but I did say I’m a bit bored of coming second to Flora constantly,” said Taylor-Brown, smiling. “So we need to change that.”