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Bermuda can do worse than ride Duffy’s coat-tails

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It’s so emotional: an overwhelmed Duffy just comes to grips with what she has achieved at the finish line in Cozumel, Mexico (Photograph by Aaron Smith)

To get a true sense of what Flora Duffy accomplished, and its impact on Bermuda, when she crushed a world-class field to win the World Triathlon Championships Grand Final in Cozumel, Mexico, you need to go no farther than the comments from a watching Aaron Smith.

“Having Flora win the women’s championship was icing on the cake and made all us Bermudians down there joint celebrities with her,” said the father of Tyler Smith, who at the tender age of 17 is well on the path to making his own mark for the island in the burgeoning sport of triathlon.

Aaron Smith, normally the cheerleader for Tyler and his wife, Karen — she who so excelled in Hawaii to deliver an age-group title at the Ironman World Championships in October 2014 — doubled up as an accredited photographer for The Royal Gazette during the weeklong finale to the World Triathlon Series.

A front-row seat to any top event is one to be cherished. But when you are watching one of your own reach the highest point of achievement, it is something to behold and to foam over at the mouth in the rush to share the good news.

Such emotions and height of expectation were prevalent when Bermuda put down its ample toys and stopped for two hours to focus on Duffy’s quest for Olympic immortality last month. While many applauded Flora’s performance, and an eighth-place finish in the context of her previous attempts at the Games was indeed noteworthy, the measure of where she stands in the world reckoning is revealed by the belated disappointment over what went on in Rio from the great woman herself.

A punishing hill segment apart, Duffy suffered for not having someone to assist her in a breakaway that might have led ultimately to a place on the podium. Still, she chided herself for not getting it done on her own, which would have required a superhuman effort.

But that is where Flora Duffy is today. She expects superhuman things of herself. She has made great sacrifice so that she once might be termed as great.

That day has arrived. Bermuda has a truly great athlete. Her successes, and those, too, of Tyler Butterfield, it must be added, are the launch pads for those in an island that, by its very nature, should have few problems serving as a conveyor belt for triathlon stars of the future.

Why? Because swimming, cycling and running should come as second nature to island inhabitants, with the difference between those in their early development and the likes of Duffy and Butterfield being commitment and exposure to international competition and full-time training that can be gleaned only by relocating off island.

On the island, it is too easy at times to allow a disconnect between what goes on locally and what happens overseas, but the very reason why we have stars abroad is because they have graduated to the next level of achievement and are thirsting for more.

Duffy is right at the pinnacle of that achievement and the world is watching.

So, too, have been a host of fellow professionals whose support for a compatriot in a sport that is so detached from theirs imbues the spirit we would like to see in this country on a more regular basis — and on so many different levels.

There is something about the Bermuda flag being flown with pride and dignity that gets the likes of professional footballers Freddy Hall and Nahki Wells, and several others, a bit giddy and caught up in the patriotic euphoria. In an era where so much division is driven by race and politics, it is refreshing to see athletes supporting one another and it is much appreciated by the athletes themselves.

The question for the country is, do we allow this special moment to happen and then do nothing with it? Or do we aim to cash in; not literally, but in the sense that support is provided so that Flora Duffy moments are not few and far between?

Or are we so determined to fight for the sake of fighting that we would rather become fixated over the expense account of a sports minister supporting Bermuda athletes at an Olympics.

Thirty thousand dollars, while a substantial amount of money to some, is really a drop in the ocean; a speck, even, when you compare the overheads of those among Sylvan Richards’s counterparts from similarly sized countries.

Much ado about nothing, the saying goes.

Instead our focus should be on ensuring that this high the island is riding as a result of what Flora Duffy has done is maintained and built upon. We can do that by each availing ourselves of one another, be that by emotional or financial means, with all ego put to one side.

Today’s athletes have shown what is possible from this very small part of the world when we can.

I’ve done it: Duffy defeated arguably the strongest field assembled for an Olympic distance triathlon this year, including at the Rio Games (Photograph by Aaron Smith)
Lap of honour: Duffy has won many times before, but nothing could be sweeter than this run to the line (Photograph by Aaron Smith)
Past the learning curve: Duffy made up on the cycle leg in Cozumel the ground she was unable to do when in Rio. The difference was sensational (Photograph by Aaron Smith)
It all went swimmingly: little did Duffy realise after a first phase that was relatively even among the favourites that she would boss the rest of the race (Photograph by Aaron Smith)
It’s like watching Brazil: the Bermuda flag is flown proudly as travelling supporters watch Duffy do her thing (Photograph by Aaron Smith)