Bermuda triathletes talk of the town
Bermuda’s superb fifth-place finish in the mixed team triathlon relay appeared to surprise almost everyone at Southport Broadwater Parklands on Saturday.
Everyone, that is, except the four athletes responsible for ensuring Bermudian triathlon has become the talk of the town on the Gold Coast.
If Flora Duffy’s gold in the women’s triathlon upset the natives who hoped home-town favourite Ashleigh Gentle would live up to her assertion that she is “no lesser athlete” than her rival, then Bermuda’s performance in the relay event won their respect and admiration.
How has a tiny island in the North Atlantic Ocean produced four athletes capable of annihilating South Africa, trouncing the Scots before holding off the Welsh in their very first stab at triathlon’s explosive format?
As Tyler Smith, who laid the foundations for Duffy’s jaw-dropping third leg, which dragged Bermuda from seventh to fifth, pointed out, they were less than a minute away from a podium.
Australia won an absorbing see-saw battle with England to claim gold, with Gentle redeeming herself in the third leg after her disappointing fifth in the individual race on Wednesday.
The host nation stopped the clock in 1hr 17min 36sec, with England 52 seconds behind in second, while New Zealand secured bronze in 1:19:28. Canada came fourth in 1:19:35, one minute and nine seconds ahead of Bermuda. South Africa, the silver medal-winners at the 2014 Glasgow Games finished last after Simone Ackermann picked up an injury midway through the first-leg bike.
That Bermuda, whose population is the fraction of the size of the seven other countries in the race, were able to field a team at all was remarkable. Their spirited display, however, was nothing of stunning.
“It was our first time doing a mixed team relay and you’re racing at the Commonwealth Games,” said Duffy, whose husband Dan Hugo coached the team. “It’s an Olympic sport now so the bigger countries are really pushing and taking it super seriously. They’re training people specifically for this event and have numerous people who they can enter. For us, this is all we have and we united well. It’s awesome to come fifth and to just be here racing.”
Erica Hawley continued her encouraging showing at these Games, having finished sixteenth in the individual race, with a solid first leg, including a superb bike in which she dropped Scotland’s Beth Potter to take sixth.
By the time she handed over to Smith, Bermuda were back in seventh although Hawley could take plenty of satisfaction from a job well done.
“Erica’s bike was stronger than we probably expected,” Tyler Butterfield said. “If we knew she was going to ride that strong we might have swapped the order and put Flora first.”
Duffy admits that they might have made a few tactical alterations in hindsight.
“Tactically, it’s hard because you don’t get to see the order of the other teams and that can change the dynamic,” she said. “If we’d switched Erica and I, we would have maybe been in the mix a little longer, but ultimately I think fifth was where we would have finished regardless of our order. We did great.”
Hawley, 19, said she was simply happy to have given Bermuda a fighting chance of a respectable finish.
“Going first was probably the wisest decision and I embraced it,” Hawley said. “I knew I had to have a really good swim and wanted to come out [of the water] with someone [Beth Potter, of Scotland], which I did.
“I managed to drop Scotland on the bike, pass South Africa, and even though I got passed by [Potter] on the run, I was happy I could just be in the mix for Tyler [Smith].
“I gave it my all and that’s all anyone can ask. I know the team is happy for me.”
Smith, who came 21st in the men’s individual race, was unable to advance Bermuda’s position numerically, but he made sure Duffy had a deficit to work with.
“That was a great leg by Erica and it put me in the best possible position,” Smith said. “I was just hoping to get on Marc’s [Austin, of Scotland] wheel for the run.
“He’s in such great form and at that point I soloed and tried to fight for every second because when you’re handing off to Flora you know the world champion is coming up. The motivation was massive.
“A lot of the teams front-loaded whereas we back-loaded. We knew we would have a strong finish.”
The 19-year-old believed Bermuda could have threatened for a medal had they had more practice at the super sprint format — 250-metre swim, a 7-kilometre cycle and 1.5km run.
“I think we’re all super pumped with fifth,” Smith said. “A lot of the teams have experience of doing relays and I think we could have even done better.
“It would have helped if South Africa had been closer to Erica and for her hand over with a ten-second buffer. I would have been able to use that in the swim and with Henri Schoeman [the men’s gold medal-winner] coming up behind in the bike, hopefully I would have been able to get on that. We’re only one minute and ten seconds away from medal.”
By the time Duffy, whose bike was faster than any other woman, handed over to Butterfield, Bermuda and Wales were locked in fifth.
Butterfield, at 35 the oldest of the foursome, used every bit of his racing nous to keep Wales at bay.
“I know my transitions aren’t good so instead of drafting [Christopher Silver] on the swim, I made sure I got in front.
“On the transition he pulled up and when he was putting his shoes on I basically attacked him on the bike.
“He rode really well and I was afraid he was going to claw me back. That’s really dangerous because when you attack you put all of your effort out.
“The only time I was happy was when I came to transition [in the run] and could see on the big screen that he wasn’t on my shoulder.”
Butterfield added: “We knew Flora was going to be our strongest leg. We have to be happy. It’s our first relay and when you look at some of countries who finished behind us — well, they’re a lot bigger than us.
“It wasn’t realistic to hope we could do any better, but we still did. There’s nothing wrong with hoping.”