10,290 days? Fab Flora was well worth the wait
Flora Duffy arrived on Australia’s Gold Coast as one of the most prohibitive favourites of the 2018 Commonwealth Games. She is that good. But as the wonderfully unpredictable and sometimes heartbreaking history of sport has often shown, you can only beat what’s put in front of you. And, boy, did she ever.
You are only as good as your last race, it is said, and many will remember that Duffy’s last race in the World Triathlon Series on March 2 ended prematurely — away from view of the watching audiences on television and live in the streets of Abu Dhabi.
An equipment malfunction on the very first lap of the bike leg while leading in the United Arab Emirates capital meant that the two-times defending world champion was out of the race, having earlier done everything in her power to produce yet another virtuoso performance from the front.
But that setback clearly did not deter our Flora. Within 24 hours, she was back at it, putting in the hard yards, the professional in her hellbent on banishing whatever demons that might be lurking in advance of her date with history.
The professional in her ...
Duffy has suffered far more heartbreak in her career than merely falling off her bike. The hardened pro that she is, her determination steeled by the sad Olympic experiences of Beijing 2008 and London 2012, Flora has seen both ends of the spectrum and whatever else lies in between.
But she quite likes the top and, disaster notwithstanding, it would have taken an athlete of quite significant prowess to dislodge her from her perch along the Southport Broadwater Parklands.
Duffy would have been a toddler aged 2 when Clarence “Nicky” Saunders scaled the heights across the Tasman Sea — 28 years ago, 10,290 days to be precise, and also on a Thursday.
International sport has moved on a fair bit since then, with triathlon among those burgeoning sports that have forced themselves into mainstream consciousness. Made for TV.
Blessed initially by pioneers the likes of Jim Butterfield, of Ironman fame, and latterly by former age-group world champion Karen Smith, Bermuda has form for punching above its weight.
The next generation is reaping the benefits from those who came before them, with Flora Duffy and Tyler Butterfield leading the way for much of the past decade, and youngsters Erica Hawley and Tyler Smith poised to take up the baton when their seniors have had enough.
Having all four appear at a major Games together is a sight to behold — the joy on young Hawley’s face during a training run with “the great Flora Duffy” one of those “capture it” moments.
Before Flora went and did what she did, obviously.
Hawley was a meritorious sixteenth in the women’s race, and hours later Butterfield and Smith were eighteenth and 21st respectively in the men’s event, the younger Tyler mature enough beyond his years to feel a sense of disappointment in his finish despite being lined up amid the most star-studded field he had ever experienced.
He need not. But back to Flora.
It can be argued, and rather convincingly, that she has faced stronger fields in World Triathlon Series events that she has dominated for the past two years. The great leveller, though, would have been the weight of expectation.
From the triathlon world. From her fellow competitors. From all of Bermuda. We hope all of Bermuda — in a country where race and politics are perennially constant and evil bedfellows, you can take nothing for granted, so we can only hope.
That kind of pressure is best dealt with by elite athletes themselves. Family and loved ones are usually a bucket of nerves, and prickly about any outside forces that might be construed as placing undue expectation.
We experienced that very same irritation this week when we wrote in a headline that Duffy was confident of winning the gold medal. Tone it down, came the request, we don’t want to spook Flora. But we relented because we know and appreciate Flora the athlete as opposed to Flora the sister, Flora the daughter or Flora the BFF.
And Flora the athlete is supreme, has no peers, especially in the Gold Coast field, and should be paying little attention to the media circus — which is designed in any event for the edification of the uninformed masses. The mere mortals.
The same, perhaps crazier, build-up can be expected when Duffy leaves Australia and makes a beeline for her homeland in time for MS Amlin World Triathlon Bermuda at the end of this month.
Teeing us up for what should be a spectacular weekend from April 26 to 29, Duffy will have more on her plate than usual as an ambassador for the event. To back up her accomplishments worldwide, then, with victory on home soil would be the stuff of dreams.
It is at this time that we must take full stock of what Flora Duffy — “Mrs Dan Hugo” in her personal life — has become: an international superstar to rival the Brownlee brothers on the men’s side of triathlon.
Without a full understanding of what is required to live in such rarefied company, we in Bermuda run the serious risk of taking Flora Duffy for granted.
Again, she is that good.
But every triumph is to be celebrated as though it were the first — and the last. There’s no telling when her like will come around again.
Appreciate her now. She’s a gem. Our gem. Our Flora.
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