Seven days to go and the seven days that were
In seven days’ time, Bermuda will be the sporting centre of the world. Given that the 35th America Cup will have no shortage of global competition between May 26 and June 27 from the “small matters” of the FA Cup Final (English football), French Open (tennis), World Table Tennis Championships, Champions Trophy (cricket), Stanley Cup Final (ice hockey), NBA Finals, Champions League final (European football), Lions tour to New Zealand (rugby union), Summer X Games, US Open (golf) and 24 Hours of Le Mans (motor racing), that is saying something.
For that, our eternal gratitude goes to Sir Russell Coutts, the chief executive of the America’s Cup Event Authority who is featured in these pages today, and locally to Grant Gibbons, the Minister of Economic Development, who among others in the political sphere worked so arduously to strike the deal for the “greatest race on water” to become synonymous with our very own Great Sound.
But most of all, a blank cheque of heartfelt appreciation is afforded the teams — Oracle Team USA, Artemis Racing, Land Rover BAR, SoftBank Team Japan, Groupama Team France and, latterly, Emirates Team New Zealand — for what they have brought and will continue to bring by way of boosting our economy through use of goods and services, and for what they are expected to deliver by way of world-class entertainment on our waters for the best part of a month.
The finest in the world imported to our shores. Bermuda seen as it has never been seen before.
It is at times such as these, as we look on in awe and amazement at the talents of Jimmy Spithill, Sir Ben Ainslie and the prodigious Peter Burling, that we must add to the glossy picture the achievements of our very own out in the wider world.
We often take ourselves for granted on this rock and, as such, when athletes such as Flora Duffy and Tyler Butterfield deliver day in, day out on the international stage, they run the risk of becoming old hat.
Nothing could be farther from reality in terms of significance.
Most have seen by now what the America’s Cup sailors put themselves through to be in optimum physical condition for handling the flying catamarans that have been gracing our waters for much of this year and will continue to do so this month and next. But what is largely unseen is what our born and bred Bermudians are doing behind the scenes before taking the start line or first stepping foot on the pitch.
Which is why it is appropriate now to change tack, with another appreciative nod towards the sailing fraternity and its jargon, and reflect on the week that was for a cross-section of Bermudians who are not so connected by background, but who are spiritually linked in their endeavour to represent Bermuda with distinction.
Flora Duffy, so appropriately named, is the gift that keeps on giving.
On the back of a 2016 that was the climax of three successive years of blossoming, Duffy belatedly began the 2017 season in defence of her World Triathlon Series title with victory in Yokohama, Japan, on Saturday.
Not only did the 29-year-old overcome a hip injury to win in her first try at this particular event — she was in convalescence for the first two races of the series in Abu Dhabi and Gold Coast, Australia — but Duffy did so by a record-breaking margin in the history of the World Triathlon Series. (The runner-up may have stopped to fetch her fallen sunglasses from the floor, but we’re not having it that the time lost was a contributory factor to the 1min 51sec that Duffy put between them.)
Continents apart and within 24 hours, Tyler Butterfield — “the forgotten one” — reminded of his pedigree when fully fit by turning in a sterling performance to finish runner-up at Ironman 70.3 Monterrey in Mexico.
The 70.3 referring to the total distance in miles — 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, 13.1-mile run — gives an insight into Butterfield’s stated ambition of cracking the podium at the World Ironman Championships. A chip off the old block, Tyler has been inspired to reach the heights in his profession by father Jim, so representing Bermuda in the most official sense had to be sacrificed.
As giving as Butterfield is, though, he tried both the shorter sprint distance triathlon that can be found at a major games as well as the longer versions, which require a different sort of training and intensity.
Ultimately, something had to give and for a while he struggled with results and fitness. But this fella has no quit in him, so the Monterrey returns against that backdrop — even though he was nearly a minute from the top of the podium — are akin to something plucked from the gold standard.
Those who compete in team sports stand less a chance of the spotlight being shone on them as individuals; they rely so much on their team-mates. But in the same week, we have two Bermudians — no slant intended here towards David Burt’s “Two Bermudas” — who are front and centre in the living rooms of British football fans and millions more around the world.
Nahki Wells, who will be making his third visit to Wembley Stadium as a player, led the line with distinction in Huddersfield Town’s penalty shoot-out win over favourites Sheffield Wednesday two days ago. He returns to English football’s national stadium on May 29 — having appeared twice in one season with former club Bradford City — 90 minutes away from the chance of joining Shaun Goater and Kyle Lightbourne as the only Bermudians to have played in the Premier League, preceded by Arnold Woollard and Clyde Best in the days when the top flight in England was run by the Football League.
Wells was almost joined by international team-mate Reggie Lambe, but his Carlisle United side, after fashioning a dramatic two-goal comeback against Exeter City on Sunday to draw the first leg of their League Two semi-final 3-3, and then a similarly dramatic recovery in the West Country yesterday, ultimately went out in the dying stages to a goal fit to win any cup final.
The prospect of two Bermudians at one of the world’s most famous stadiums was mouthwatering, but Lambe will no doubt be cheering his compatriot on, as will most others back in Bermuda — as a bit of an aperitif for the last flight of the first round robin in the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Qualifiers.
We conclude by giving mention to those who are not at the professional level of the Duffys, Butterfields, Wellses and Lambes, but who are at the start of their journey in sport.
The Bermuda Under-13 rugby union team returned this week from the Freeport Junior Rugby Festival in the Bahamas with a spotless record and Bermuda’s young netball players, augmented by a few wily veterans, left a lasting impression at the Netball Europe Open in Aberdeen.
Both represented the country commendably and there will be more to come from both.
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