Best is yet to come, says Duffy
Flora Duffy has more than lived up to her potential since bursting on the scene as a prodigiously talented teenager more than a decade ago.
Duffy, who turns 30 this week, cemented herself as the top women’s triathlete in the world after securing a second successive ITU World Triathlon Series title at the Grand Final in Rotterdam ten days ago.
Throw in a bronze medal at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto, three Xterra World Championships and two ITU Cross Triathlon World Championships, and it is fair to say that Duffy has exceeded even her own expectations.
“I always hoped this was possible,” Duffy told The Royal Gazette. “When I first started racing at 18, I showed enough potential to suggest this could happen.
“Even so, you can be an incredible world-class athlete and still never win two world titles.
“You have to have some luck and for things to work out for you. I’ve been lucky, I guess.”
While it is true Duffy did not have to contend with Gwen Jorgensen, the Olympic champion — who sat out this season to have a baby — there has been nothing lucky about the Bermudian’s near-perfect campaign.
In fact, her tally of six WTS victories is a feat that has been matched only by American Jorgensen, whom Duffy fended off to claim a maiden WTS title at the Grand Final in Cozumel, Mexico, last year.
“It’s slowly sinking in,” said Duffy, who returned to Bermuda to compete in the Tokio Millennium Re Sprint Triathlon on Sunday.
“Last year it was almost too much for me to understand, winning the world title in that way, whereas this year it almost means more and I can take it in my stride a bit better.
“I feel I’ve really cemented myself as one of the top girls this year. I’ve proven last year wasn’t a fluke.”
Ominously for her rivals, including 31-year-old Jorgensen, who is expected to return next season, Duffy does not believe she has reached her peak yet.
She plans to hit that high-water mark at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo and challenge for a medal — the only glaring omission from her collection of triumphs.
“My peak is still in the future,” Duffy said. “I hope it’s in three years’ time, that’s my next big focus; building towards Tokyo.
“It will be interesting to see where I’m at then and whether I want to move up a distance or stay at Olympic.”
Duffy’s potential threatened to remain unfulfilled after her Olympic debut in Beijing in 2008, when she failed to finish because of loss of form and illness.
It was only after Duffy began studying at the University of Colorado in Boulder that she returned to the fold — albeit tentatively.
According to her father, Charlie Duffy, those carefree days competing in Colorado “saved her career” by enabling his daughter to rediscover her love for the sport. Duffy, too, has not forgotten the dark times when she struggled to finish races.
“I’ve spoken to a lot of wise coaches over the years and they always told me that form is temporary, that there will be ups and downs, but if you’re a high-class athlete your ability will always be there,” said Duffy, who splits her time between Colorado and Stellenbosch, South Africa.
“You just have to figure it out and remember that when times are hard. I’ve always tried to think about that.”
As Duffy’s star continues to rise as one of the greatest athletes the island has produced, so does the level of support she receives whenever she returns home.
A self-proclaimed introvert, Duffy certainly looked at home signing autographs and posing for photographs with aspiring junior triathletes, and several adult competitors, at Albuoy’s Point at the weekend.
“Every time I come back [the support] elevates more and more,” said Duffy, who will race on home soil at the ITU World Triathlon Bermuda in April next year.
“At first it was just triathlon and sporty people, but now it’s across the community, all sorts of people, which is really cool.
“I think the [Grand Final] being on local TV last weekend really helped. It opened up to a whole audience of Bermuda, which is really neat and I hope that can continue.”
In recognition of her achievements, the Warwick Academy swimming pool will be renamed the “Flora Duffy Swimming Facility” in honour of its most decorated sporting pupil.
Duffy, who has two races left this season — the Xterra World Championship in Kapalua, Maui, next month and the Island House Triathlon in Bahamas in November — is to attend its official opening on November 3.
“It’s pretty cool,” she said. “I never thought that would have happened when I was in high school.
“I swam in that pool when I was a kid and I still do.”
With Duffy’s best years surely ahead of her, it seems likely that there will be plenty more island tributes coming her way.
2018 ITU World Series
Mar 2-3: Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Apr 28-29: Bermuda
May 12-13: Yokohama, Japan
June 9-10: Leeds, England
July 14-15: Hamburg
July 27-29: Edmonton
Aug 25-26: Montreal
Sept 12-16: Gold Coast, Australia
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