Triathlete Alex Yee, 18, from Brockley in south London, was named as the winner of SportsAid’s prestigious One-to-Watch Award by Olympic legend Mo Farah CBE at the charity’s 40th anniversary SportsBall.
Alex received the award, previously won by the likes of Tom Daley, Hollie Arnold, Jodie Williams, Harry Martin, Amber Hill and Morgan Lake, after a sensational year which saw him claim gold in the ITU World Duathlon Junior Championships and bronze at the Quarteira ETU Triathlon Junior European Cup.
"It feels amazing - I'm speechless,” said Alex, also a track and cross country runner, who is currently running a faster 5,000m time than Mo was at the same age. “To be named the one to watch and then to be presented it [the award] by Mo Farah is the greatest honour and I'm over the moon.
"It's surreal for Mo to praise my times,” added Alex – who ran 13:52.01 in the 5,000m at the 2016 IAAF World Junior Championships. “To have his backing and the backing of such a great charity shows that it's all going in the right direction. I'm ready for that next step and to push myself and hopefully in four years get to that Olympic Games.”
Alex edged out skeleton slider Ashleigh Pittaway, 16, and swimmer Tom Derbyshire, 18, as they finished in second and third position respectively. Alex, who has been helped by SportsAid in 2013, 2014 and 2016 through the Dave Aitchison Fund, will receive an additional £1,250 in funding following the victory.
Mo, who received a SportsAid award in 1999 at 16 years old, completed the ‘double double’ at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games as he retained both his 5,000m and 10,000m titles from London. Mo was pleased to be able to present the accolade to Alex and predicted a bright future for all three One-to-Watch Award finalists.
“It was great being able to present the One-to-Watch Award to Alex,” said Mo. “He clearly has a lot of potential both as a triathlete and particularly as a runner. Ashleigh and Tom have also had impressive years and did incredibly well to make the top three. They have all really benefitted from the support SportsAid has provided them.
"As an athlete or ex-athlete, to see that help that SportsAid offer, helping the next generation and continuing to support them all the way to 2020, is invaluable. I remember my first time ever getting support from SportsAid, how big it was and how far it went so it's important we see that.
"We have to recognise the hard work SportsAid do,” added Mo – who also announced a donation of £50,000 was being made to SportsAid on behalf of the Mo Farah Foundation with his wife Tania on stage. “They're very good at supporting and finding the next generation of athletes, like myself in the past.”
Directly after the One-to-Watch Award presentation, Mo and Tania informed guests that the donation, made through the Mo Farah Foundation, will specifically help track and endurance athletes as they look to support the next generation of emerging talent in the build-up to Tokyo 2020 with SportsAid.
Alex, Ashleigh and Tom were selected from over 1,100 rising British stars supported by SportsAid from more than 60 different sports in 2016. Each year, athletes are nominated by their sport’s governing body on the strength of their talent and potential, demonstrating why the award has gained such a strong reputation.
Six previous recipients of the One-to-Watch Award – Tom, Hollie, Jodie, Harry, Amber and Morgan – represented Great Britain in Rio this summer, while a total of 26 Olympic and Paralympic medals have been won across all the nominees who have been put forward for the award since it was launched back in 2006.
During this year, Alex has had the opportunity to train with senior triathletes, including Jonny Brownlee, Vicky Holland and Non Stanford. The Tokyo Games are very much on Alex’s radar and Olympic silver and bronze medallist Jonny has been impressed with the One-to-Watch Award winner’s displays.
“Alex has shown some great promise in 2016, putting in some world-class performances across the globe,” said Jonny – the 2012 ITU Triathlon world champion. “With his running strength, he characteristically claws his way up the field towards the end of a race and is a bright prospect for the future.”
For finishing in the runners-up position, Ashleigh has been given an extra £750 in funding while Tom was provided with a £500 boost. Ashleigh had an outstanding season which saw her win Winter Youth Olympic gold in Lillehammer and Tom claimed gold in the 1,500m freestyle at the European Junior Championships 2016.
"It's crazy to have been nominated because there are so many amazing athletes and to be selected in the top three is a great honour, especially as a winter sports athlete in Britain,”said Ashleigh. "Four years past Pyeongchang 2018 is a realistic goal. I would be very lucky to be selected for the Olympic squad, but 2022 is my main goal.
"It helps that I can always go to the older athletes who have achieved skeleton success for Team GB, to Lizzy [Yarnold], Amy [Williams] or Shelley [Rudman], and ask them questions and they can give me advice all the time,” added Ashleigh – who won silver and bronze on the Intercontinental Cup circuit last week.
The 40th anniversary SportsBall was attended by over 500 guests, including more than 30 Olympians and Paralympians who previously received SportsAid support, as the charity reflected on four decades of helping British athletes during the critical early stages of their careers, and celebrated the success in Rio this summer.
"To be recognised within the top three of the One-to-Watch Award is a great pleasure. I was quite surprised to get in the top 10 but to make in the top three is even better,”said Tom.“Last season was a great season for me - managing to win Europeans and Youth Commonwealth Games.
“I'm now off to Bath to train with Olympians and being with them helps to improve my targets,” added Tom – who trains alongside Jazz Carlin and Siobhan-Marie O’Connor. “I'm looking forward to trying to qualify for the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, then hopefully move onto Tokyo 2020 and be a medalist there.”
Established in 1976, SportsAid originally supported the country’s top athletes before focusing on the next generation coming through following the arrival of UK Sport in 1997. The vast majority of athletes supported by SportsAid, typically aged between 12 and 18, receive no other funding.
Young athletes rely heavily on their parents to help them cover training and competition costs including accommodation, transportation, equipment and nutrition. SportsAid is often the first external body to recognise the potential of young athletes as they look to progress in their sporting careers and achieve their ambitions.
SportsAid’s 40th anniversary SportsBall was sponsored by Eversheds and SSE. What will you do to support the next generation of sporting talent? Please visit www.sportsaid.org.uk to find out how you can help.