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Flawless Duffy wins iconic gold

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Bermuda’s Golden girl: Flora Duffy celebrates as she wins the women’s triathlon at Southport Broadwater Parklands in the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, Australia (Photograph by Mark Schiefelbein/AP)

Flora Duffy has cemented her iconic status in Bermudian sport after executing a perfect race to seize the gold medal at the Commonwealth Games.

Duffy was already the undisputed queen of triathlon and added another historic moment to her growing legacy by winning Bermuda’s second Commonwealth gold and first of any colour by a woman, finishing the sprint-distance race in a time of 56min 50sec — 43 seconds ahead of second-placed Jess Learmonth, of England.

And there was more good news for the island when Erica Hawley, the 19-year-old, finished sixteenth in 1hr 3min 14sec.

It was always debatable whether anyone could stop the reigning two-times world champion at the sun-kissed Southport Broadwater Parklands.

Ashleigh Gentle, the home-town hopeful, appeared to be best placed to beat Duffy as the only woman to do in the past 18 months, but could only manage fifth.

“It’s very cool for me [to be the first Bermudian woman to medal], Duffy told The Royal Gazette. “It’s been a big target for me and I executed the race I wanted to. Now I’m happy it’s just done.”

Duffy, who was presented with her medal before the playing of “Hail to Bermuda”, believes her gold resembles a milestone in her career.

Of all the boxes Duffy has ticked since the start of her upward trajectory in 2015, when she won bronze at the Toronto Pan Am Games, claiming gold at a major competition remained blank … until today.

“You come into this with more pressure and expectation,” she said. “I go into a WTS race and think, ‘OK, I can finish one to five and it’s all great because it’s for the series’, whereas for this you want to win gold. It holds more weight. It’s a big thing.”

Duffy’s triumph has put Bermuda top of the medal table, at least for a few hours.

“It’s pretty cool; I’ll have to post that all over social media,” she added. “I never thought I’d see that!”

The 30-year-old looks every bit a champion these days. She admits, though, it is taken time for her to handle the pressures that come with being No 1.

“It takes a while to get used to that status and be comfortable in that position,” said Duffy, who was cheered on by her parents Charlie and Maria, both wearing “Go Flora Go!” shirts, as well as husband Dan Hugo, who is acting as her coach on the Gold Coast.

“I was just breaking through in 2016 and wasn’t comfortable in that space. In 2017 I just had to learn and embrace it for what it is. It’s a cool position to be in. It doesn’t influence the race any more. I’m No 1 and that’s it.”

Duffy, who opted to stay at a hotel near the venue rather than the Athletes’ Village, added: “There’s definitely a lot of pressure and expectation put upon me. You have to get used to more interviews, more publicity, and more expectation.

“As you get used to that space it just becomes normal. You just have to forget about it and say, ‘This is where I’m at, I’m going for gold and it’s a privilege.’ This is what you dream about.”

The Bermudian came out of the water just behind Learmonth, with the pair neck-and-neck after the bike leg before Duffy pulled away in the five-kilometre run. It is a tactic the pair have used countless times in WTS races. Learmonth hung on for silver in 57:33, with Canada’s Joanna Brown third in 57:38.

“Jess is a phenomenal swimmer and she nailed it, which I hoped she would and I was just holding on to her,” said Duffy, who placed eighth at the 2014 Glasgow Games.

“I was surprised we had such a big gap. When I heard we had 40 seconds on the bike, I thought ‘Game over, let’s go’.

Duffy said she was excited about returning home in a few weeks to celebrate with family and friends when she races in the ITU World Triathlon Bermuda.

“I have to say hi to my brothers [Joel and Campbell], they’re in [The Docksider] watching,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to racing in Bermuda on April 28.

“It’s actually good that this came before and now I can just enjoy the race. It’s not like I have to prove myself. I just have to race at home in front of everybody.”

Having a laugh: Flora Duffy enjoys her gold-medal moment on the Gold Coast podium after her victorious performance in the Commonwealth Gameswomen’s triathlon, along with silver medal-winner Jess Learmonth, of England, left, and Canada’s Joanna Brown, who won bronze (Photograph by Mark Schiefelbein/AP)