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Flora Duffy makes stunning return to competitive action

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Flora Duffy crosses the line in seventh place in Yokohama

Dame Flora Duffy was delighted with her performance after making a stunning return from 18 months out injured when finishing seventh at the World Championship Triathlon Series event in Yokohama, Japan, on Saturday.

The Olympic champion, who questioned whether she would ever race again after a patella tendon complaint that just would not go away, completed the 1.5-kilometre swim, 40km bike and 10km run in 1hr 53min 38sec to most emphatically blow away any doubts that she could go again at the highest level.

“I’m very happy with how my race went,” said Duffy, who struggled to contain her emotions in the immediate aftermath.

“It was great to get out there after such a long break. I didn’t have too high expectations given the last year with injury but I was very pleased with how the race went. There were lots of positive signs and good to get the first race in as I only have the opportunity to race twice before Paris.”

Duffy’s next race is in Italy on May 25 and the event will feature a strong field as the athletes prepare for the Olympic Games in Paris this summer.

“The next race will be in two weeks’ time in Cagliari, so I will fly back to Boulder for eight days and then fly back over, so I have to recover and get ready for that.

“There will be a really strong women’s field there, so that will be good to test myself and get another race under my belt and learn what we can from that.”

In Yokohama, Duffy was back to her dominant self for the second half of the swim, despite not starting in a seeded position, and was in the lead group during the bike before noticeably easing back on the run as she plots returning to her peak before the Olympic Games in Paris on July 31.

Top honours went to Frenchwoman Leonie Periault, who blitzed her rivals on the run to cross the line well clear in 1:52:28 for her first win at this level.

Second was Taylor Knibb, of the United States, in 1:53:04 and Emma Lombardi, of France, third in 1:53:08.

The race, which opened the WTCS season after Abu Dhabi was cancelled, brought with it numerous storylines — none more compelling than how the Bermudian would fare after so long out of action.

Duffy last raced in November 2022 when capturing her fourth world title, but her preparations for Olympic year have been beset by one setback after the other — to the extent that for a moment she contemplated retirement.

After starting in a disadvantaged position on the swim, the 36-year-old surrendered 18 seconds to the lead swimmer after the first of two laps. But by the end she had more than made up the stagger, climbing out of the water sixth after 18min 21sec of her first racing since a victorious Abu Dhabi Grand Final.

With the leaders in her sights, it was no surprise that Duffy attacked the nine-lap cycle course with vigour. She was part of a 16-strong breakaway group that soon became 12 as she, Laura Lindemann, of Germany, Maya Kingman, of the Netherlands, and the 29-year-old Periault pushed the pace.

Flora Duffy after finishing seventh in Yokohama

But it was on the run where Duffy’s overall fitness would receive its greatest examination, her repaired knee the subject of much speculation and media interest.

Almost immediately, she throttled back and ran at an even tempo to clock 34:12, thirteenth-fastest out of the 60-woman field.

For Periault, a place on the podium would confirm for her a place at the Olympics, and she left no doubt with a dominant performance on the run course. Her time of 33:02 for the 10km was bettered by only two women, one being Gwen Jorgensen, Duffy’s gold medal-winning predecessor from the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.

The American left the Olympic distance after Rio to pursue longer events, and was always going to be up against it on the swim on her return to WTCS, and particularly the bike. But when she dominated at this level before Duffy took over in 2018, it was on the run where she was peerless. And in Yokohama, 32:56 for 10km was second-best in the field and sufficient to get her into a final placing of fifteenth.

Final results

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Published May 13, 2024 at 8:02 am (Updated May 14, 2024 at 8:05 am)

Flora Duffy makes stunning return to competitive action

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