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Triathlon pioneer Jim Butterfield basks in Flora Duffy’s golden moment

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Jim Butterfield played an integral role in introducing the sport of triathlon to Bermuda which Flora Duffy won the island’s first Olympic gold medal competing in.
Flora Duffy won Bermuda’s first Olympic gold medal competing in the women's triathlon at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Flora Duffy’s coronation as Olympic champion in the women’s triathlon was an especially proud moment for Jim Butterfield who was instrumental in establishing the sport in Bermuda decades earlier.

Along with wife Debbie and rival runner Peter Lever, Butterfield helped to organise the first triathlon ever contested on the island in 1979.

The sport’s profile steadily grew thereafter, attracting youngsters such as Duffy, who earned Bermuda’s first Olympic gold medal at the rescheduled 2020 Games in Tokyo.

So how did it all begin?

“Triathlon for us started with a challenge by the local athletes, we wanted to do something different,” Butterfield explained. “We were basically in the running fraternity.

“I got together with a bunch of the running fraternity. It was my wife Debbie and I and then Peter Lever was big on it.

“A friend gave me a Sports Illustrated magazine about Hawaiian Ironman and that’s when we changed the order of the sport and then were serious about doing it here in Bermuda.

“We were at the Palmetto Bay Hotel down there at Flatts and we did a swim first, then a run and then riding and the ride was around Harrington Sound.”

The event proved to be a big hit among participants.“I don’t think we had any goal in mind,” Butterfield added. “We started and said let’s put on an event and see what interest it was and to our surprise it was a great deal of interest.

“I think Peter Lever won the first triathlon we ever held here in Bermuda. We were all pretty much amateurs and then it became recognised.”

Due to traffic congestion and police concerns, organisers were forced to move the races to another venue.

“Because of the congestion and traffic we moved up to Somerset and once again the police were not excited about seeing all this activity on the road,” Butterfield said. “They didn’t think it was a good idea having people racing around on push bikes so our challenge was having a place to have it without any involvement with the public and the police.”

The problem was eventually solved by staging events at the former United States Naval Annex at Morgan’s Point, Southampton.

“We were invited to move it to the Naval Annex where for many years we had it because it was deemed to be kind of out of Bermuda on American soil,” Butterfield added. “The commander allowed us to go in and do our triathlons up there at Morgan’s Point.

“We used to do two events on two different weekends. We would do a team event first and a lot of people enjoyed the team event and then would join up for the individual event. Then the following week people would often sign up and do it just as an individual.

“I think 350 was our highest number, and that was in the team event with a runner, a swimmer and a cyclist.”

As for Duffy’s crowing glory in Tokyo, Butterfield said: “I was so proud and relieved that was her day because she’s had so many other experiences where it wasn’t her day.

“It was the perfect day and everything worked out well. It was so nice for her family to finally see Flora with the gold medal.

“That means a lot to me and to all the people in Bermuda who have supported those that have participated in triathlon, as well as those who have coached and organised for so many years to get Flora to where she is today and others.

“It’s really heart warming to see triathlon is a recognised Olympic sport and so many people doing it.

“I smile now to think where it all came from and how hard Flora has worked at four different Olympics.”

Butterfield has no doubt Duffy’s success will inspire others to take up the sport.

“I think the interest will be keen now,” he said. “We’ll see others, I’m sure, and it will be something hopefully that will stick for many, many years.”

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Published August 09, 2021 at 7:56 am (Updated August 09, 2021 at 7:54 am)

Triathlon pioneer Jim Butterfield basks in Flora Duffy’s golden moment

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