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The gift that keeps on giving

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Female Triathlete of the Year Dame Flora Duffy with male counterpart Gustav Iden at the Global Triathlon Awards (Photograph courtesy of trizone.com.au)

Just when you thought there was no more left for Dame Flora Duffy to give to Bermuda by way of international recognition and acclaim, the world’s pre-eminent female triathlete has added another chapter to a heaving library of achievement.

The ever-growing sport of triathlon has been a part of the Bermuda sporting landscape for the best part of 40 years, but did not enjoy its Olympic coming-out party until 2000. As with any new sport scratching around for market share in competition with the more established football, cricket and traditional US sport, it has had to bide its time to be considered mainstream.

Dame Flora Duffy became the first triathlete to successfully defend a Commonwealth title when she swept all before her in Birmingham last year (File photograph by David Davies/PA/AP)

That time is now — almost 50 years after the first recorded triathlon in California in September 1974. And that time has come because the vast majority of the competing interests within the sport are now on the same page. The culmination of this togetherness, a unification of sorts, brought all the finest under one luxurious roof on the French Riviera on Friday to celebrate the best of the best.

Many of Dame Flora’s title-winning exploits have been over the Olympic or standard distance, but there is also the sprint triathlon, the 70.3 (half-Ironman) and the Ironman, leaving it to the subjective when comparing one discipline’s superstar with the next.

But at the Hyatt Regency Nice Palais de la Méditerranée, the historic first such gathering, World Triathlon, Super League Triathlon, the Professional Triathletes Organisation and others put all their eggs in one basket to “to fill the void of recognition within the sport on a global stage” — in the words of the organisers.

In the end, they were all there to salute our Flora as their Queen of Triathlon for 2022.

That is huge. Huge for Flora and her family. And huge for Bermuda.

The 35-year-old has shone a beaming spotlight on these isles before, primarily through her feats at the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games, but at a time when the country’s tourism product is stuttering — cases in point, the cavernous but empty Fairmont Southampton and the casino gaming tragicomedy — this is a win that should not be dismissed as merely “Flora’s done it again”.

With the three-race deal with World Triathlon having expired last year — 24 months after it was meant to because of the pandemic — our government and tourism quango have been caught asleep at the wheel again in not shoring up triathlon opportunities on island for this year and beyond.

If no one in the Ministry of Tourism or Bermuda Tourism Authority can appreciate that Flora Duffy — dame or no dame — is our greatest tourism ambassador, they really have not been paying attention.

It seems a lifetime ago that former tourism minister Michael Fahy — remember him? — and his team won the bid to bring triathlon’s best to Bermuda in 2016. At that time, Flora was tearing it up on the Xterra circuit and had just won the first of four WTS world titles.

More was to come, so much more, resulting in two visits to Buckingham Palace, as she was appointed first, in 2018, an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire and then, last year, a Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

Bermuda has paid due homage to Flora, too — we’ve named after her a tricky stretch of road and our national stadium — but the engagement should be constant as there is more to be done.

Our finest and most acclaimed athlete of this or any generation is approaching an age where many look towards the endgame. But Flora is going to keep on trucking for a while yet, as she looks towards defending her Olympic title in Paris — who could resist a date with the Champs-Elysées? — and then broadening her horizons over the longer distances.

She belatedly took a stab at a 70.3 last autumn and gives the impression it is there, in the company of the ultra-punishing full Ironman — 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run — where Flora would like to end her illustrious career, all while serving as an ambassador for Bermuda.

We must pay attention, as hosting these events should not be beyond our reach. A good start would be to pull the veil on the most open secret in tourism and announce Tracy Berkeley as the next BTA chief executive more “imminently” than was described by chairman Wayne Caines a fortnight ago — fully seven months after the mysterious departure of Charles Jeffers II.

Dame Flora Duffy is the gift that keeps on giving, and it is incumbent on us to make her to Bermuda what David Beckham is to England.

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Published January 23, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated January 23, 2023 at 9:47 am)

The gift that keeps on giving

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