Olympic Champion: Flora Duffy realises Olympic destiny at Tokyo 2020

Monday 26 July 2021

What an Olympic journey it has been for Bermuda’s Flora Duffy. On Tuesday morning at Tokyo 2020 she produced the performance of a true champion, powering through difficult conditions on the bike and then pulling away emphatically over the 10km run to win the Olympic gold she craved and that the display so richly deserved. After finishing 45th at London 2012, 8th in Rio the same year she won her first world title, today at Tokyo 2020 she topped the podium with one of the best races you are likely to see.

Great Britain’s Georgia Taylor-Brown won a brave silver having suffered the misfortune of a puncture right at the end of the bike segment that put her 20 seconds off the front and fought back into contention, USA’s Katie Zaferes winning the bronze and an equally hard-earned podium on a tough day in Tokyo.

It was 06.45 local time Tuesday morning in Odaiba Bay when the 54 women took to the start line for their shot at becoming Tokyo 2020 Olympic Champion. Heavy rain in the hours before the race had let up but the drizzle - like the challenge ahead - remained. The pressures of the biggest race of their lives, the heat and humidity of a Tokyo summer and the five-year wait for their shot all came together to deliver something truly special.

That wait was extended a further 15 minutes to allow extra time for another heavy band of rain to pass and give the athletes some precious extra preparation.

Once they got underway, the action never let up. From the opening strokes of the swim it was Jessica Learmonth (GBR) pushing the pace and with more chop in the water than the previous day’s men’s race, the stronger swimmers quickly pulled away on lap one.

That lead group were setting a rapid pace early on, so it was Katie Zaferes (USA), Summer Rappaport (USA), Vittoria Lopes (BRA), Laura Lindemann (GER) and Georgia Taylor-Brown (GBR) and a great first lap from Duffy left her just 10 seconds off the front. Vicky Holland (GBR) was 27 seconds off her teammate, Maya Kingma (NED) 30 seconds and Nicola Spirig (SUI) was 48 seconds back, with USA’s Taylor Knibb already a minute off the leaders.

The second lap saw no let up as Learmonth looked to keep the game plan ticking and create a distinct lead group that could pull away even further together on the bike. Following the seven leaders, Emma Jeffcoat (AUS) was next out 42 seconds back, Kingma now almost a minute off with Nicola Spirig and Cassandre Beaugrand 70 seconds back.

Duffy wasted no time in hitting the gas and soon the leaders settled into their familiar groove up front, while behind them the slick conditions saw Ainsley Thorpe (NZL) and Anastasia Gorbunova’s (ROC) races sadly over early in the bike. The rain slowed but rarely stopped long enough to help conditions improve.

At the end of lap one the seven leaders had 60 seconds over the Spirig-led chasers, Rachel Klamer (NED) and Rio 2016 bronze medalist Holland part of a 14-strong group looking to organise themselves and try not let that gap extend any further.

The chase group was 12 deep after two laps – Spirig, Kingma, Valerie Barthelemy (BEL), Alice Betto (ITA), Yuko Takahashi (JPN), Klamer, Jeffcoat, Leonie Periault, Zsanett Bragmayer (HUN) and Simone Ackerman (RSA) hoping to pull together and claw back some time.

Spirig was doing plenty of work to keep them in the hunt and they were soon joined by Rappaport, dropped by the leaders on lap 4. At the 20km mark the gap was still just over a minute to the first chasers and just over two minutes now to Lotte Miller (NOR), Taylor Knibb and Holland but the rain started to fall again for the closing laps.

Vittoria Lopes then began to lose touch as Duffy and co refused to let up the pace with two laps to go, and it began to look like a battle between the five big guns to decide the podium. Bad luck in the form of a flat tyre for Georgia Taylor Brown right at the end of the bike saw her drop 20 seconds at the worst possible moment as the remaining four of the group streamed onto the blue carpet.

The bikes racked, shoes on and transition negotiated for the final time without any issues, there was now just 10km between those women and Olympic glory. What unfolded was nothing short of a masterclass from Duffy.

Looking every bit in control from the very first strides, she carved out a gap within the first 1km and never looked back. Behind her, Zaferes was holding on, and Learmonth – her challenge seemingly gone - saw Taylor-Brown pass her and get back into the chase and take on fluids to pursue the medals.

With the American soon in her sights, it became a tactical play for the silver as Duffy stretched further away towards her Olympic horizon. With 5km to go, Duffy was 47 seconds clear of Zaferes, Taylor-Brown was now on her shoulder, Lindemann and Learmonth being closed down by the likes of Periault, Klamer and, inevitably, Nicola Spirig.

Duffy had time to soak up the joy of victory and etch her name into triathlon immortality down the final chute, falling to the floor as the emption poured out. Taylor-Brown had passed Zaferes and pulled clear for a gutsy silver, the American lighting up as she crossed for the bronze.

ELITE FEMALE:
1 DUFFY Flora BER 1:55:36
2 TAYLOR-BROWN Georgia GBR +1:14    
3 ZAFERES Katie USA +1:27    
4 KLAMER Rachel NED +2:12    
5 PERIAULT Leonie FRA +2:13

by Doug Gray World Triathlon (Photo: Wagner Araujo)


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