TOKYO – At the age of eight, Bermudian triathlete Flora Duffy dreamt of becoming an Olympic champion.
On Tuesday morning (Monday night, T&T time) at a windswept course in the Japanese capital, the dream came true as Duffy put an earlier serious foot injury behind her to storm to gold medal glory, after demolishing a top-class field of more than 50 triathletes from around the world to win by more than a minute.
With 64 000 residents, Bermuda became the smallest country in the world to win gold at the Summer Olympics.
For 33-year-old Duffy, the pre-race favourite, it was fourth time lucky after she failed to finish in Beijing in 2008 and almost giving up the sport, before falling from her bike in the 2012 renewal in London.
She finished only eighth in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 – the year she won the first of two consecutive world titles before she claimed gold at the Commonwealth Games in Australia in 2018.
“This has been my dream since I was eight years old,” said an elated Duffy, who secured Bermuda’s first medal since heavyweight boxer Clarence Hill won bronze at the Montreal Games in 1976.
“I grew up in Bermuda doing triathlon and always wanted to be an Olympic champion.
“It was worth it. There’s been many tears, many heartbreaks. Many times I was like, ‘Am I ever going to be healthy again, can I ever race at the top?’
“I just kept believing and I have a really great support system around me. My coach is incredible and so I just had to trust the process that I would be ready just in time.”
Duffy, who trains in Boulder, Colorado, led the field shortly after the final transition to the 10-kilometre run and never looked back as she stretched her lead over the chasing pack before breaking the tape in a winning time of one hour, 55 minutes: 36 minutes.
Britain’s Georgia Taylor-Brown took the silver, one minute, 14 seconds behind Duffy, after puncturing a tyre during the bike leg – which she said cost her 22 seconds – with American Katie Zaferes 12 seconds further adrift earning the bronze.
In winning, Duffy smashed the previous largest victory margin of 1:06.97 held by Australian Emma Snowsill at the 2008 Games.
Added Duffy, whose parents Charlie and Maria watched the race at a bar in Bermuda: “This is Bermuda’s first gold medal and the first woman to do it. It’s an incredibly special moment and I feel like I crossed the line today, but I did for everyone in Bermuda.
“It’s just an incredible moment and I could not have done it without every single person back home cheering me on.”
She added: “My family are like going crazy. I think the whole of Bermuda is and I think that’s what makes it so much special for me.
“Yes, this is my dream. But I also knew that it was bigger than me and I think when you’re in that sort of space it just makes everything that much more special and incredible.
“I’m just so proud I could do this and be Bermuda’s first gold medal winner, first female medal winner and just hopefully inspire everyone back home that this is possible.”
Duffy quickly established herself among the lead group after exiting the 1,500-metre swim in sixth after a storm delayed the start of the race by 15 minutes.
“I knew the swim would be crucial and I could pretty much tell from the first lap that I was in a very good position,” she said.
“Establishing a good position in the swim just set the race up so much that everything went so much more smoothly after that.”
Duffy was part of a group of seven who broke clear at the start of the 40-kilometre bike on slick roads from rain with no margin for error.
“On the bike in these conditions, and it’s a very technical course, really the main thing was trying to stay safe and not have anything silly happen,” Duffy added.
Duffy trailed Zaferes at the start of the run only for a few seconds before storming clear.
“My running has also come a long way that I knew I was very confident in my run,” she said.
“I felt pretty good and of course I’ve raced them before, so I sort of know their strengths and weaknesses.”