Duffy can be all-time great’
Flora Duffy will be on course to become one of the greatest triathletes of all time if she can win the gold medal at the Commonwealth Games on Thursday.
That is according to Greg Welch, the Australian triathlon legend, who believes Duffy is breaking new ground in the sport by dominating both traditional and off-road racing.
Not only is Duffy a two-times ITU World Triathlon Series champion, she also has four Xterra titles, two ITU Cross Triathlon World Championships and a Pan Am Games bronze medal.
For Welch, the Bermudian is on track to be mentioned in the same breath as Zimbabwe’s “Queen of Kona” Paula Newby-Fraser and Australian great Michellie Jones.
“If Flora was to win this one, the Olympics, then an Ironman of some sort, there’s a great argument to say she’s going to be one of the greatest triathletes to have ever lived,” Welch told The Royal Gazette. “There are arguments across the board with Paula Newby-Fraser, who won eight Ironman titles and a whole bunch of Olympic-distance races.
“Then you’ve got Michellie Jones, who won silver in Sydney [at the Olympic Games in 2000], two ITU World Triathlon Series titles and the Hawaii Ironman — there’s a great argument there, too.
“But Flora, she’s doing something nobody has ever done and that’s winning off-road Xterra titles and ITU Cross Triathlon World Championships.
“If she moves up in distance as she ages, she’s going to be one of those women we talk about for a long time. She’s already one of my favourites because of her grit, determination, and where she’s come from. It’s an amazing story.”
Welch himself is acknowledged as one of the greatest in the sport’s history after winning a “Grand Slam”, including the ITU World Championships, the Ironman World Championship, the ITU Duathlon World Championships and the Long Course World Championships.
The 52-year-old has followed Duffy’s career closely from prodigiously talented teen to multiple world champion and expects her to be unstoppable on the Gold Coast.
“Flora is the girl to beat and the course sets up OK for her; it’s pretty flat and not terribly hard,” said Welch, who will be commentating on Duffy’s race. “If she gets into the lead on the bike during a breakaway then good luck catching her. She really does race with confidence and when she gets to the front she’s the pacesetter. Everybody else in the group knows that.
“There’s only a couple of women who can actually ride at her level and they aren’t up in the front group. You’re talking about Ashleigh Gentle and Nicola Spirig, athletes who can bike at her pace but don’t swim in that lead group.
“That’s what Flora has on her side. She would like to keep them at bay and get on to the run with a bit of a lead.”
Gentle, the home-town favourite, has already cranked up the pressure on Duffy, insisting she is the one to beat “whether she likes it or not” — something Welch agrees with. He does, however, foresee Gentle playing catch-up after the swim and requiring help from team-mates Charlotte McShane and Gillian Backhouse to reel Duffy in.
“Flora’s definitely the favourite and I see Ashleigh being 45 seconds down after the swim,” added Welch, who won bronze at the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland.
“I don’t know whether Australia will wait to haul her up or just send the two others up to the lead group to slow Flora down. They may not even take a turn, which will heavy the legs of Flora.
“That’s the interesting thing about the Commonwealth Games; the field isn’t like an Olympic or World Triathlon Series.
“You’ve only got a minimal amount of athletes from each country and what you might see is some teamwork happening. Not for Flora, though, because she doesn’t have a team to work with. But the Aussies, the Kiwis and the Brits, look for those guys to help each other out.”
Welch, who lives in California, believes the triathlon will be one of the most popular events at the Games, which could play to the advantage of world No 2 Gentle.
“Ashleigh is from Brisbane, about an hour away, and there will be a huge support for her,” said Sydney-born Welch.
“The Gold Coast is a huge part of triathlon. It’s produced a lot of world champions and Australians loves their water sports, cycling and running.
“It’s going to be hugely popular because it’s a free event. Ashleigh will be able to pull from the Australian crowd.”
Should Duffy break antipodean hearts and capture gold, it would set the 30-year-old up nicely heading into the 2020 Toyko Olympics.
“If she keeps her world No 1 ranking into Toyko that will be better for her,” Welch said. “She’s a confidence racer and she’s on top of everything right now.
“Barring a mishap on the Gold Coast, it should be all hers and going into Toyko she should be riding a wave of confidence.”
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