On top of the world
Flora Duffy etched her name into the history books as she was crowned triathlon World Champion on Saturday.
Victory at the Grand Final of the ITU World Series in Cozumel, Mexico cemented the Bermuda triathlete’s place among the island’s all-time sporting greats.
In a gruelling sport which has exploded over the past two decades, requiring speed, endurance and strength, the 28-year-old Bermudian has now risen to the very top.
She sealed the women’s crown with an emphatic victory over the Rio Olympic Games gold medal-winner, Gwen Jorgensen, a previous world champion, who admitted she was beaten by a better athlete on the day.
In what was the last event of the series, the former Warwick Academy student went into the race with a slim points lead, knowing she had to finish in the top two to clinch the title. And she did so in style, storming to victory, leaving the American Jorgensen in her wake.
A multiple winner of Bermuda’s Sportswoman of the Year
award, Duffy will consider her latest achievement the
pinnacle of her long athletic career which started as a Front
Street Mile champion while at primary school.
Those familiar with the sport, which starts with a 1500-metres swim, continues with a 40-kilometre cycle and finishes with a 10-km run, might believe her performances this year match or even exceed any sporting achievement by a Bermudian that came before her.
Clarence Hill grabbed an Olympic bronze medal in boxing, Clarance “Nicky” Saunders a Commonwealth Games gold medal in high jump, equestrian Marybeth Tumbridge a Pan Am Games gold, and Brian Wellman was triple jump indoor world champion.
Many others have succeeded on the international stage, including another professional triathlete, Tyler Butterfield.
All of those above, apart of Butterfield, competed at the amateur level.
Duffy has been a professional for some ten years and has reached the mountain top of her sport where the competition is daunting.
She has beaten the best in the United States, Australia and Britain, and scores of other countries a hundred times bigger than Bermuda.
“Anything is possible,” she said after Saturday’s triumph.
“I hope this inspires, no matter where you’re from, a little country, you can be up there with the best.”
Yesterday, she remained in Cozumel to watch her mother, Maria, take part in the senior female category while father Charlie, who recently returned from Rio de Janeiro, witnessed the historic triumph via a video stream.
Bermudian Patty Petty, a long-time technical official with the International Triathlon Union, was virtually lost for words when contacted by The Royal Gazette yesterday.
“It’s fabulous. I’m overwhelmed. But I’m not surprised. With the help of her boyfriend and coach, she’s become the best in the world.”
“She’s been working so hard for this for a long time,” added Mrs Petty, who has watched Flora’s international appearances around the globe as an official, dozens of times.
She was present when Flora placed eighth in the Olympics in Rio, and when she has competed in several other World Series events.
“For an athlete from such a small country, this is unheard of.
“She deserves all of the accolades that come her way. I’m so happy for her.”
Flora’s brother, Joel Duffy, said: “It’s amazing what she’s achieved over the past couple of years.
“Her performance yesterday was incredible and completely validates her status as the ITU World Champion. It was glorious to watch. I couldn’t be more proud.”
Flora’s dad, Charlie, was ecstatic.
“Her run was the most amazing thing.
“She destroyed Gwen. I thought she had gone off too fast but she actually gained ground on Gwen.
“One of my lasting memories will be Flora standing on the finishing line waiting for one of the other competitors to appear.
“She was apparently calm before the race but a bit concerned about her form. She was slightly disappointed about her performance at the Olympics.”
Her schedule, he explained, would not allow her to return to Bermuda until December for what will inevitably be a warm reception.
Her immediate plan is to return for three weeks to Boulder, Colorado where she trains and then fly to Hawaii to defend her Xterra world title, before travelling to the Bahamas for the two-day Island House Invitational event, and then to Australia, where she will defend her title as ITU Cross Triathlon world champion.
Michael Dunkley was among those who heaped praise on the athlete yesterday.
“This is a huge achievement for Flora, and Bermuda proudly celebrates her victory on the world stage,” the Premier said. “This is also an amazing follow-up to her stellar performances over the past year and by winning the 2016 World Triathlon Series, Flora has undoubtedly solidified her legacy as a world champion.
“This is proof positive that hard work, determination and perseverance against all odds can deliver a great result. I am sure that all of Bermuda joins me in congratulating our world champion Flora Duffy on such an inspirational achievement.
“We are so proud of you Flora, and we look forward to celebrating your success when you return to Bermuda.”