Britain’s triathletes will look to step out of the shadow of Alistair Brownlee at the Odaiba Marine Park in Tokyo this week.
Brownlee had to admit defeat in his bid to challenge for a third straight gold medal, with an ankle injury preventing him recapturing the form that saw him dominate the races in London and Rio.
His younger brother Jonny, who has silver and bronze medals from the last two Games, is on the team along with Rio bronze medallist Vicky Holland and first-timers Jess Learmonth, Georgia Taylor-Brown and Alex Yee.
The latter three may not be household names yet but performance director Mike Cavendish is bullish, telling the PA news agency: “I don’t think we’ve ever taken a team to a Games before where genuinely every single athlete who is on the start-line for Great Britain could be in with a shout if the race goes their way.
“That puts us in a great position, and I don’t think there’s many other countries, or any other countries, that are in a similar place.”
First up on Monday comes the men’s race, followed by the women on Tuesday and, for the first time in the Olympics on Saturday, the mixed relay, where two men and two women from each country compete together.
The most exciting prospect is 23-year-old Yee, who is the fastest runner triathlon has ever seen. He secured his spot on the team by winning his first World Triathlon Series race in Leeds last month to mark himself out as a potential gold medal contender.
Cavendish said: “He’s been inspired by what Alistair and Jonny have done in the past. It’s so unfortunate that Alistair couldn’t be here because of his injury but, to have Alex step in as the next generation, that’s almost the best outcome.
“He’s super talented. For him, this is all about just laying down the sort of performance that he can. If that ends up in a podium, then great. If not, then he’ll just take all the learning he can from this and experience and we’re absolutely convinced that his time will come.”
Jonny Brownlee is no longer a consistent top-three performer but he won a World Cup race in May, and Cavendish said: “The one thing you know about Jonny is he knows how to get it right.
“We talk about one day, one race. It doesn’t really matter what you do in the intervening four years, or five years in this case. He’s done the right prep, he’s in really good shape and a really good place as well. He’ll want a different race to Alex but I think he’ll be going into it full of confidence as well.”
Learmonth, Holland and Taylor-Brown can all look back on strong recent results.
Holland, the veteran of the team at 35, was the world champion in 2018 and won a World Cup last year while Taylor-Brown is the reigning world champion and has not finished outside the top three in a race for two years.
Her close friend Learmonth was the only one of the trio who raced in Leeds last month, where she finished second.
Taylor-Brown and Learmonth dominated the test event over the Olympic course in Tokyo in 2019 only to be disqualified for holding hands as they crossed the line together.
“If we’ve got two women coming across the finish line together, providing they don’t hold hands and contrive it and they’re in position one and two, we’d be very happy,” said Cavendish. “And, believe me, there’s no way they’ll be holding hands again.”
Both races are very hard to predict, particularly given the hot and humid conditions that are bound to play their part.
Cavendish is confident the British team has done all it can, saying: “We’re in a really good place. The athletes are really happy and calm.
“We’ve spent the best part of five years prepping for these conditions. It’s definitely going to be a factor, and I think there will be athletes who will overperform because they cope well with the heat and perhaps some favourites who underperform because they don’t cope so well with the heat.”