Why Bermudan Flora Duffy's Olympic triathlon success was so important

When you hail from a small nation, sporting glory is comparable to finding a natural pearl inside an oyster.

It brings about the same type of starry-eyed bewilderment as gazing upon Halley’s Comet. I would say it’s a once-in-a-blue-moon experience but they actually pop up every two to three years. Positively prolific!

Coming from Northern Ireland, I’ve been spoilt a little but the likes of Mary Peters, Dennis Taylor, Carl Frampton and others do not come around often enough to ever take it for granted.

Specifically at the Olympics, big nations will have their choice from a metaphorical sporting buffet of success, while for most it’s the hope that lightning will strike and they’ll grab a rare headline. Well, I can confirm one athlete in particular has stolen this one.

You see, I am not sure I could recite all of Team USA’s gold medallists so far but I can sure as hell recite all of Bermuda’s. There is only one name and it is that of Flora Duffy, the first ever Bermudian to win an Olympic gold, from a nation that, bar the 1980 boycott, has competed in every Games since 1936.

As the 33-year-old triathlete crossed the finish line, after a stunning performance in the water, on the bike and on foot, in conditions more suited to Winterfell in Game Of Thrones, she became a sporting immortal to 63,034 people, if she wasn’t that already.

For the record, boxer Clarence Hill won their only other medal, a bronze in 1976, and I’m guessing he still hasn’t bought many drinks since. What made Flora’s triumph all the more special was the weight of a career of Olympic disappointment that she undoubtedly carried with her around that course, knowing that this was her very last opportunity to reach the summit of her sport.

Her first Olympics was in 2008 when, suffering from an eating disorder, fatigue and depression, she inevitably didn’t finish the race and quit the sport altogether for a time.

The road back was long and has been punctuated by Olympic disappointment. A 45th place at London 2012 and an eighth at Rio 2016 when expectations were higher.

World titles and Commonwealth Games success came but this was the biggest day of her career, her one last day of reckoning, which she completely owned, winning gold with more than a minute to spare and sending a tiny nation, of which she is so proud, completely bonkers.

Britain’s Georgia Taylor-Brown won silver despite picking up a puncture and I can’t wait to cheer her on again but this day belonged to Flora Duffy.

As she stood atop that podium, Bermuda became the smallest country ever to win gold in summer Olympic history. In fact, any colour of medal, until yesterday when Alessandra Perilli won bronze for San Marino in the women’s trap-shooting final.

However, my favourite part of this entire story is that she could have been another Team GB gold but instead turned down the chance to represent a bigger nation, not only staying true to her heart, but also setting up the Flora Fund, to help the next generation excel in sport and improve their overall health.

As Bermuda partied, Premier David Burt tweeted: ‘Congratulations. You’ve worked so hard and you’ve made an entire island proud.’

Be careful Dave. She is currently looking at life beyond triathlon and might just fancy your job!

I’ll leave you with this. The women’s Olympic triathlon is 51.5km in total distance. Bermuda is 40km long and less than three wide. Could Flora Duffy be the first Olympic champion to win gold over a final distance that is longer than the actual length or breadth of their native country?

If anyone reading this has enough time or inclination to go through every Olympic gold and check this, be my guest. Personally, I’ve more random Olympic sports to watch.


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