Return of the queen: Flora’s golden day to remember
Flora Duffy was hailed a national hero as she returned home yesterday for the first time since she won gold at the Tokyo Olympics.
It was a day of celebration for the entire island as Bermuda welcomed its most successful athlete with a reception fit for a queen.
Flora left the airport just after 2pm and was met by scores of wellwishers.
She told The Royal Gazette before she departed it was “amazing” to finally get home.
She said: “I’ve never before had such a welcome at the airport – it’s overwhelming.”
Thousands more lined the streets to cheer Flora’s motorcade from the airport, which toured the eastern parishes before it rolled into Hamilton.
The route took in Flora’s former school, Warwick Academy, and later stopped in at the Cabinet Office where she was congratulated by David Burt, the Premier.
The day of celebration ended with a red carpet ceremony at City Hall, where Flora was presented with the Keys to the City.
A beaming Flora, in pride of place in an open top car at the head of a six-vehicle motorcade, was greeted with cheers and showered with bouquets as the motorcade drove towards Hamilton.
Car horns honked and some drivers stopped and got out of their vehicles to cheer Flora, who waved and called out to supporters.
The procession slowed as it approached Darrell’s Wharf, where the sail training ship Spirit of Bermuda fired a cannon salute in Flora’s honour.
Warwick Academy pupils erupted with joy as the motorcade did a circuit of the school.
Flora “high-fived” as many of her young fans as she could.
But at last the caravan entered the city, accompanied by a cacophony of cheers, blaring horns and a sea of flags.
Flora was greeted by another titan at Cabinet Office – Clarence Hill, Bermuda’s only other Olympic medal winner, at the Cabinet Office.
Mr Hill won a bronze medal in boxing at the 1976 Games in Montreal.
Mr Burt told Flora that the island had been “anxiously awaiting to welcome you home and celebrate your achievement”.
He said: “You gave us lasting memories and filled us with an unforgettable sense of pride as you took on some of the worlds greatest athletes from countries much larger than our own and prevailed against all odds.
“Bermudians around the world watched on their edge of their seats as you swam 1,500m through cold waters, cycled relentlessly for 40km through Tokyo, and ran that final 10km with such poise and purpose on the way to victory.”
Mr Burt, who presented Flora with a cheque for $25,000, added: “Your achievements at the Olympics and throughout your awe-inspiring career have propelled Bermuda on to the international sporting stage and for that we are all grateful.”
Ernest Peets, the sports minister, added that Flora was “a shining example of what can be accomplished with determination, commitment and dedication”.
He added: “As a country you have given us tremendous joy and immense pride and we salute your amazing achievement.
“Not only have you inspired an entire country but you have proven what is possible.
“You have left such a positive impression on so many young athletes who look at you as a role model.”
Flora replied that she was “proud and excited” to finally be home.
She told the crowd on the Cabinet Office lawn: “One thing that is really important to acknowledge is that I am not the first person to do this. Thank you to Clarence.
“Thank you for being the first Bermudian to win a medal at the Olympic Games and showing us what is possible.
She said that Mr Hill’s example had inspired her as a child to push herself to become a sporting great, despite coming from a small island.
Flora told Mr Hill: “Thank you for everything. You paved the way and I am honoured that I could follow you and I hope there are many Bermudians watching on that are inspired to fulfil their goals.”
The final stop of the day was at City Hall, where Charles Gosling, the Mayor of Hamilton, told a crowd of hundreds that “we are in the presence of greatness”.
Mr Gosling told Flora: “Like many Bermudians, my family and I watched with pride as you stormed to victory during the women’s triathlon.
“To watch you cross the finish line was an absolutely euphoric moment.
“And, in case you hadn’t heard, the entire island celebrated your victory.”
Mr Gosling said: “Your monumental win marked an astounding moment of ‘firsts’ for Bermuda – the first time Bermuda has won a gold medal at the Olympics, the first time a Bermudian female has won a medal at the Olympics and it also makes Bermuda the least populated nation in Olympic history to ever win a gold medal at the Summer Olympics.
“Thank you for representing Bermuda so exceptionally and for all your hard work and dedication. Thank you for incredible contribution to sport and to Bermuda. You have inspired a generation of young athletes.”
Flora’s father, Charles Duffy, told The Royal Gazette that her reception had deeply moved the family.
He said: “It’s been a really great turnout. We’re talking about something that happened a few months ago and yet people are still coming out and supporting her.
“It seems everyone is still a huge fan. I think she is really touched by this.
“It’s a very proud moment, although we’ve been proud of Flora for a long, long time.
“She’s the best in the world.”
Flora said as she was granted the Freedom of the City of Hamilton that she had not expected such an extravagant reception.
She said: “It’s really, really great to finally be home and celebrate it today.
“I couldn’t be any more proud to win this medal on the day but being back here, seeing the excitement, seeing how much it means to everyone in Bermuda, this is really a special moment.”
The crowd at City Hall watched footage of Flora’s Olympic exploits.
The sports superstar admitted afterwards: “I haven’t actually watched the full race yet.”
“After seeing the journey, the clips from Beijing, London, Rio and then going into Tokyo as the favourite, how confident I was and how much of a different athlete I was going to that Games …
“It’s really special and sometimes its hard to believe that I actually did it.
“I’m still in that period of it feeling a bit surreal. This is definitely helping me soak it all in and helping me realise that I am in fact the Olympic champion.
“It definitely brings up a lot of emotions watching those clips.”
But Flora - known for her iron will - showed old habits died hard when she was asked how she planned to spend the rest of the day.
She said: “I’ll probably go for a run, if I can.”