Go Flora go: Bermuda is behind you
So it has come to this. Flora Duffy lining up against the best that the world has to offer in the Olympic women's triathlon and doing so justifiably as a bona fide medal contender.
Not since Brian Wellman and Clarance Saunders were in their heyday has Bermuda arrived at an Olympic Games with such expectation that we just might have someone who could join Clarence Hill among the pantheon of great achievers on sport's greatest stage.
Both came up a hair's breadth short — Saunders in the high jump at the Seoul Games in 1988 and Wellman in the triple jump four years later — while the fourth-place finish of Star class sailors Peter Bromby and Lee White in Sydney in 2000 was as surprising as it was stunning.
But other than that, before and since Hill shared the Montreal medal podium in 1976 with the greater boxer never to turn professional — the legendary Teófilo Stevenson, of Cuba — we have sent our best athletes to rub shoulders with the giants of sport more in hope than expectation.
Duffy herself would admit that she was no more than hopeful in Beijing in 2008 and at London 2012, but now after four more years of growth, superior training and the critical introduction of off-road competition to her programme, the 28-year-old is on the lips of many in the world of triathlon.
For Bermudians paying serious attention to triathlon for the first time — which we shouldn't be, given Jim Butterfield's pioneering efforts so many years ago — Duffy is right up there with the best in the 1.5-kilometre swim, is arguably the best in the 40km cycle and is more middle-of-the-road in the 10km run, comfortably her weakest discipline of the three.
The top three should cross the finish line right around the two-hour mark, with possibly a few minutes added because of the hilly bike course.
All things being equal, Duffy will be at the forefront of the race right from the start, which is great news for Bermuda viewers — especially those who will be tuning in from 11am today through national pride more than their love of triathlon, or sport in general. “Where's the Bermuda girl?” is not an uttering that should be heard too often.
Great for the uninitiated. Great for Bermuda. And so far, so good for Flora.
It will be on the bike and then, rather obviously on the run that she will be tested by a field that she has become very accustomed with. It is at times such as these when being a lone shining star can count against you, as countries with multiple athletes in an event can apply team tactics to upset the applecart.
Duffy will be no stranger to this, but just to give some insight into what she will be faced with, lining up against the Bermudian will be Gwen Jorgensen, the overwhelming favourite and her American team-mates, Katie Zaferes and Sarah True; the British trio of Vicky Holland, Helen Jenkins and Non Stanford; Andrea Hewitt and Nicky Samuels, of New Zealand; and the Australian team of Erin Densham, Ashleigh Gentle and Emma Mofatt.
In fact, there are 17 countries that have two or more competitors in a field of 56 that will set off from Fort Copacabana, which in essence means there could that many groups who apply team tactics against our Flora.
In reality, not so many — and the majority of them Duffy has encountered routinely and successfully on the World Triathlon Series circuit — but at the business end of the event, the assistance of team-mates can translate to vital seconds in the run when the fight for any colour of medal is at its peak.
Since the beginning of 2014, Duffy has taken her many successes in her stride. Event after event in the Xterra series added so much gloss to a bulging CV that the return to the short-course distance in time to build up enough points to qualify for Rio was seamless.
But apart from merely qualifying, she is being talked about in glowing terms. And what an achievement is set before us when we consider that she is taking on the might of the United States, Great Britain and Australia.
With the form that she is in — victory a fortnight ago in the Montreal World Cup, half the Olympic distance, was the speed test to clear any cobwebs — even Duffy is beginning to sense that something special is in the offing. And now, for the first time, the weight of expectation is self-imposed.
More than 4,000 miles away in Bermuda, we are feeling it too. Breakfast may not go down too well for those closer to the pulse of Duffy and triathlon, such will be the nervous anticipation. But, notwithstanding that at least one member of the Bermuda contingent curiously left Rio before our only viable medal shot has competed, what is undeniable is that the country will be behind our girl.
The term “putting Bermuda on the map” is far too overused; washed up and put through the rinse for generation after generation thoughtlessly to regurgitate when intellect goes on walkabout.
We are on the map; that has been seen to time and time again. By any number of athlete, young and old, and not always for the right reasons, too.
What Flora Duffy does, and may very do sometime between 1pm and 1.15pm today, is give Bermuda ownership of that map.
We have not had a day such as this in Bermuda for 40 years: when Clarence Hill fought Rudy Gauwe, of Belgium, for a place in the Olympic semi-finals and a guaranteed medal.
Could it be? Go, Flora, go.