Simply the best
When all’s said and done, it was actually pretty boring. As a contest, that is. When you add all the emotion pouring out of the crowds lined all through Hamilton, of course, it was anything but.
Simply put, we’re used to this now. Flora Duffy dominating triathlon races is no longer news. It’s the standard she has worked so hard to set.
And yet she continues to raise the bar.
On Saturday afternoon, Duffy became the first woman in World Triathlon Series history to win a race after being the best in all three disciplines. She swam the fastest swim, cycled the fastest bike and ran the fastest run.
One can no longer talk about Flora Duffy being among the elite triathletes in the world. It’s time to start talking about her as one of the best athletes in the world.
There was one moment that summed up just how far ahead of everyone else she is. The real race in the women’s event, certainly the closest and most dramatic in a plain sporting context, was that between Vicky Holland, of Britain, and Katie Zaferes, the American. Heading towards the end of the race, the television cameras were fixed on Holland and Zaferes, straining every sinew as they battled for a silver scrap of Flora’s leftovers.
Then the camera went to Duffy. She ran like Usain Bolt by comparison.
That Flora’s put in such a performance here, of course, makes it extra special. For some athletes crumble when the pressure is on, and the pressure was on Duffy here. For all the obvious love that Bermuda feels for Duffy, if she had lost it would have been a disappointment for the crowd.
Yet what sprang to mind in the few days leading up to the race is how relaxed she seemed. Duffy was laughing and joking around as she dived, in fact almost belly-flopped, into Hamilton Harbour, during the course familiarisation session on Friday. The night before, she stood up and greeted her adoring public at the Flagpole as though it was the most natural thing in the world.
But that’s what the great ones do. When the pressure is on, they deliver. And Duffy does it with such pure joy, it is downright impossible to feel anything but enormous pride when watching her work.
It’s what you dream about as a child — scoring in the World Cup final, the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl, sinking a birdie on the 18th at Augusta. And back when you’re a kid, all these things seem so joyous, so wonderful, that you don’t even think the sort of pressure you would feel as an adult doing those things for real.
And Duffy looks like she has that childlike joy when she does what she does best. It must be utterly infuriating “competing” against her, knowing that you’re almost certainly going to get annihilated by Bermuda’s smiling assassin.
When she ripped off her sunglasses as she approached the home stretch and broke into that big, beaming, heartfelt grin, it was like she encapsulated the feeling of the nation. It was a moment that not only Duffy will tell her grandchildren about, but it will also be a moment that all those who witnessed it will tell their grandchildren about, too.
“When Flora Duffy produced the most dominant performance from a Bermudian on home soil, we were there.”
Here’s the thing, though. This is triathlon. This isn’t lawn bowls, it’s not the proverbial walk in the park. It is arguably the toughest sport in the world. Ten times up Corkscrew Hill? That’s just a smidgen of what those athletes had to go through.
Her level of dominance is reminiscent of Michael Johnson, the all-conquering 400 metres runner of the 1990s. But his job was done in 44 seconds.
In diving and gymnastics, they have what is called a “degree of difficulty”; a tariff on the technical difficulty of a task. If you were grading sports by degree of difficulty, triathlon would be right up there; and this Bermudian is the best woman in the world, by some distance.
Duffy has lost one race she has completed since the start of last season. She is a beast. She is the most dominant athlete in world sport in terms of performance and on the work she has to put into her event.
And if you disagree, then answer this.