Small but mighty nation makes big impression
As I travelled from Surfers Paradise to Burleigh Heads, a random conversation with a fellow bus passenger perfectly encapsulated Bermuda’s showing at the Commonwealth Games.
With the empty seat next to me one of only a few still available, the middle-aged woman, dressed from head to toe in green and gold, plonked herself down and immediately struck up conversation.
She had spotted the laminated accreditation swinging from my neck and wanted to know exactly what my business was on the Gold Coast.
I explained that I was a journalist, reporting on the fortunes of Bermuda’s athletes, but before I could tell her all about Flora Duffy’s golden moment, tell her all about the mixed triathlon relay team’s stunning display, she interrupted me.
“Ah, Bermuda,” she exclaimed. “They’ve done really well haven’t they?”
It turned out she knew a thing or two about sport. She was on route to Robina Stadium to cheer on her son Boyd Killingworth, an Australian rugby sevens star, against the “Pommies” in the semi-finals.
Her knowledge of Bermuda was sketchy, however. Unsure was she of the island’s exact location, its population, but of one thing she was certain: Bermuda’s athletes had made their mark at the Gold Coast Games.
Duffy’s gold medal win in the opening event had contributed greatly to that. The undisputed queen of triathlon did not just beat the elite women’s field; she annihilated it — to paraphrase her father Charlie — finishing 43 seconds ahead of England’s Jess Learmonth.
To put that margin into perspective, South Africa’s Henri Schoeman was a slightly more modest seven seconds ahead of his nearest rival in the men’s race.
Duffy’s mission was accomplished, her triumph setting a positive tone that subsequently flowed through the rest of the team.
“It’s been an incredible Games and I cannot believe I’ve been here to witness all of it,” said Katura Horton-Perinchief, Bermuda’s chef de mission, whose decision to room with nervy newcomer Erica Hawley proved a masterstroke.
“From start to finish, we’ve been on. Flora set the standard and I really think the others rose to the occasion. It was inspirational.
“Bermuda is small but mighty. We turn out some amazing athletes. What an inspiration all of these athletes have been.”
The bar might have been set impossibly high for any team-mate to follow, but that did not stop several of Bermuda’s athletes from achieving their own personal victories.
None more so than in the mixed team relay, where Hawley and Tyler Smith channelled their inner Duffy to lay firm foundations for the world No 1, who dragged Bermuda from seventh into fifth before Tyler Butterfield protected her gains.
All roads must now lead to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics for the “Fab Four”, who were performing as a group for the first time.
Steven Petty, the Bermuda Triathlon Association president, certainly hopes so.
“You only need two men and women and if you’ve got the world No 1 it helps a bit,” Petty said. “It’s short and sweet, and anything can happen.
“Hopefully this will inspire a new generation again. I think that’s what happened back in the 90s when triathlon really established itself.
“We’re a really new association, only started in 1981, and the sport has only been in the Olympics since 2000 [in Sydney].”
Inevitable disappointments have interwoven the successes of Bermuda’s triathletes over the past fortnight. Tyrone Smith reached the long jump final but could not get his rhythm right and struggled to find any consistency on the board, fouling two of his three attempts, finishing tenth overall.
At 33 years old, Smith’s competitive years are ebbing away like sand through an egg timer; his dreams of winning a medal at a major competition seeming increasingly unlikely. He will, however, be hopeful of bowing out on a high in Tokyo.
Tre Houston, too, underperformed, finishing fourth in his 200 metres heat — although the sprinter did not have to search for explanations for failing to produce his best.
A succession of injuries meant the Gold Coast was Houston’s first meet of the season, while a split with his coach in his namesake city in the United States contributed to less than ideal preparations.
The 27-year-old is contemplating a move to Orlando, Florida, as he, too, builds towards Tokyo, which would likely be his swansong.
Butterfield, at 35 the elder statesman of the island’s eight-member team, ensured Bermuda bookended their Games with another performance to savour.
In brutally hot and humid conditions at Southport Broadwater Parklands, the same venue where Duffy stormed to gold, Butterfield set a new national record in the marathon, beating Raymond Swan’s longstanding time of 2:26:37 by eight seconds.
By then Bermuda had already left an imprint on the Gold Coast Games.
A small but mighty one.