It had the makings of a perfect script….. “Flora Duffy returns home to Bermuda from her Commonwealth Games gold winning performance and in front of family, friends and cheering crowds and a large television audience, puts in a dominant and record breaking performance in the MS Amlin Bermuda World Cup”. It just needed Flora to deal with the enormous pressure on her and deliver the perfect script. And…..
Ofcourse Flora delivered with an emphatic and dominant win worthy of a world champion. Not only did Flora win by an extraordinary 1 min 46 secs ( despite slowing at the finish to acknowledge the crowd) but she also posted the fastest 1500 swim (19 min 38 secs), 40km bike (1:06:32) and 10km run (34:29) times, a feat never before achieved in the current World Series format. And it was a performance that left every Bermudian watching, including many who knew very little about the sport of triathlon, ecstatic.
Triathlon legend Greg Welch summed it up best as in a bold move Flora rode to stay away from the group chasing her on the bike when he announced :
“Bermuda, it’s your champion against the rest of the world”.
Looking relaxed and confident but extremely focused Flora was all business as she set up in transition. Such was her focus that she did not even acknowledge the crowd even though she could not help but hear them.
Without the presence of the strong British swimmers, Sophie Coldwell and Jessica Learmonth to help her, Flora wasted no time in going to the front of the swim, as the huge crowds anxiously watched on the giant screens and telephone feeds to see if she could open up that important 10-15 second gap going into the bike. Then word came down that three athletes had been penalised for jumping the gun at the swim start but fortunately after an anxious wait Flora wasn’t one of those three.
And then, just before the 750m exit from the water to start the second 750m swim, there it was, a small but discernible gap between Flora and four other athletes and the rest of the field. Included in Flora’s lead group was the very capable USA athlete, Kirsten Kasper, who could potentially work with Flora on the bike.
At the swim exit the gap was around 20 seconds and the crowd knew that Flora was in a perfect position to deliver what had to be nothing less than the gold medal. Flora and Kasper had the best transitions and within the first 200 meters of the bike had distanced the three others in the lead swim group and it appeared like the perfect scenario. Kasper stuck on Flora’s wheel but as they climbed Corkscrew Hill for the first time Flora started to distance Kasper ; maybe not such a perfect scenario. Earlier when talking to the crowd I had told them that if there was a small lead group early on the bike but nobody would or could work with Flora then expect Flora to go solo. Flora soft pedaled for 10 meters looking back at Kasper but when the American did not respond it took her just seconds to make the decision to go it alone, not the first time Flora has done that but nevertheless a bold move. And just like that she accelerated up Corkscrew and was gone. By the end of lap 1 the gap on the chasers was 30 secs as Kasper fell back into the chasing group. The gap appeared to be growing but then midway through the ten lap bike the chase group clawed back some seconds and you could sense a twinge of anxiety in the crowd of spectators. Flora, perhaps from splits from husband Dan Hugo, responded with a strong lap that moved her advantage out a further 13 seconds and then it was all Flora as her lead grew each lap.
As Flora entered T2 safe from the bike and with about a one minute advantage the crowd knew that barring a meltdown, the race was all but won. Flora however was still all business, not even looking at the crowds as she set off at a blistering run pace down front street. Any thought that the chasing pack would catch her were soon dispelled as Flora kept up a relentless pace that none of the athletes behind her, despite having worked together as a pack on the bike, could match. Each lap was a procession through a cacophony of noise as the crowd roared on their island champion.
With just 1/2km to go on the run, Flora finally allowed herself to relax from her steely focus as she raised her arms to acknowledge the crowd and her customary huge grin broke out. As she crossed the line the smile said it all as she knew she had come full circle from a 10 year old watching Emma Carney in 1997 win the World Cup Bermuda to delivering 20 years later the biggest present she could give herself and Bermuda, a gold medal performance in Bermuda from their world and Commonwealth Games champion against the best in the world.
Earlier yesterday I had spoken to Phillipe Fattori, the Frenchman who won the men’s Bermuda world cup in 1997 and who is now one of the French coaches. He told me that Flora had told him that he had signed her Tshirt for her after that race. As I watched so many children wanting to have their picture taken with Flora or asking for her autograph the real significance of Flora’s achievement came to me. Many of these children were triathletes but many of them had probably never seen a triathlon before in their life. And as I looked at the racial make up of the crowd and these excited children I realised that Flora had achieved much more than winning a race. She had united an island, even for only a day, in a way in which, during most lifetimes, only a passing hurricane has achieved.
And so, at a time when Bermuda needs to be united, Flora delivered something very special to her fellow Bermudians, uniting them on a proud day for all Bermudians ; credit to you Flora….. you delivered the perfect script.
For full results go to http://www.triathlon.org