July 26, 2021
By Mitch Phillips
TOKYO (Reuters) – The heart says this is Flora Duffy’s moment but Olympic triathlon history suggests that the chances of the Bermudan securing instant national icon status with her country’s first gold medal in any sport remain in the lap of the gods.
Ever since Australia opened the 2000 Games with the women’s triathlon in the sure belief that home favourite Michellie Jones would triumph in the sport’s Olympic debut only to see her finish second behind Switzerland’s Brigitte McMahon, things have rarely followed the plot.
Duffy knows all about that, having travelled to Rio in 2016 as a strong contender and hoping to become her country’s second Olympic medallist after Clarence Hill took a heavyweight boxing bronze in 1976.
She ended that year as a triple world champion but the Olympics were a huge disappointment as she never really got herself in the mix and finished eighth. Now 33, having also failed to make any impression in London and Beijing, she knows this is her last chance.
“This is a one-day event where everything matters, from the last four – or five – years of your life,” Duffy told triathlon.org.
“It’s massive, and you don’t always get another shot. This will be my last Olympics, I’m at the top of my game and Tokyo is the day that matters for me.”
Like many in the mix on Tuesday she has had only limited racing time in the last 18 months and was uncharacteristically off the pace in the swim in her sole race this season, though came through strongly with her trademark bike power to finish fourth in Leeds in June.
As in that race, a formidable British trio will be hoping to derail her.
Georgia Taylor-Brown has barely raced this year but as 2020 world champion, everyone knows her ability. Vicky Holland, world champion in 2018 and bronze medallist in Rio, will back herself to run anyone down if she is in striking distance off the bike, while Jess Learmonth was an impressive second in the Leeds race.
Taylor-Brown and Learmouth will have mixed memories of the Tokyo course having crossed the finish line joint-first, hand in hand, in the test event in 2019, only to both be disqualified for doing so.
Gwen Jorgensen earned the United States’ first gold in the sport in Rio and there is a strong chance of more American medals.
If Summer Rappaport hits T2 in the lead group there are few in the field who can live with her run speed – though compatriots Taylor Knibb and 2019 world champion Katie Zaferes, picked on past reputation rather than recent form, will probably be doing all they can on the bike to shake her off.
It would also be unwise to discount Switzerland’s 39-year-old mother of three Nicola Spirig, appearing in an unprecedented fifth Olympic triathlon having won in 2012 and taken silver in Rio.
At the other end of the age scale, 25-year-old Maya Kingma of the Netherlands announced herself as a contender with a superb win in Leeds.
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Ed Osmond)