Two years after she recovered from career-interrupting injuries, Flora Duffy executed a perfect race to take the gold at the 2021 Olympic Women’s Triathlon on a gray and rainy day in Tokyo.
Duffy posted a 6th-best 19:13 swim, finished the bike leg in a four-women tie for the lead, then unleashed a by-far race-best 33:00 10k run to finish in 1:55:36 with a 1:14 margin on silver medalist Georgia Taylor-Brown of Great Britain and 1:27 over bronze medalist Katie Zaferes of the United States.
After WTS World Championships in 2016 and 2017, and a Commonwealth Games win in 2018, Duffy suffered a foot injury in 2018 that took her out of competition for much of a year. But without skipping much of a beat, Duffy won the 2019 Tokyo Olympic Qualification event in August and used that course knowledge to engineer the greatest triumph of her storied career two years later.
“To be an Olympic champion has been my dream since I was a little girl and did my first triathlon,” Duffy told World Triathlon media. “Going through my head was a bit of relief, coming into the Olympics as one of the favorites. There's a lot of pressure and expectations. I guess I also knew that I was Bermuda’s first medal hope in many, many years and something I wanted to achieve for myself but also for my country. I was definitely overwhelmed, I didn’t know what to do, what to think. It was a really special moment."
On the opening swim, Jessica Learmonth of Great Britain led the way with a 19:07 split that gave her a 3 seconds lead on Summer Rappaport of the U.S., 4 seconds on Vittoria Lopes of Brazil and Katie Zaferes of the U.S., and six seconds on Georgia Taylor-Brown and Duffy.
Out of the gate on the bike, Duffy joined a pack of seven women including Taylor-Brown, Learmonth, Lopes, Laura Lindemann of Germany, Zaferes and Rappaport. Virtually tip-toeing so as to avoid crashing on sharp corners with tires throwing up rooster tails of rain water, the lead pack quickly established a 1-minute lead on a chase pack that included Olympic gold and silver medalist Nicola Spirig of Switzerland, Maya Kingma (NED), Valerie Barthelemy (BEL), Alice Betto (ITA), Yuko Takahashi (JPN), Rachel Klamer, Emma Jeffcoat (AUS), Leonie Periault (FRA) , Zsanett Bragmayer (HUN) and Simone Ackerman (RSA).
By the 6th of eight laps, Summer Rappaport dropped back to join the chasers and Vittoria Lopes also faded from contention. As the chase group fought to stay in touch, Kingma, Betto, Barthelemy, Periault of France, Klamer and Rappaport were poised to make a run at the leaders in the front.
Nearing t2, it began to look like a battle between the five big guns to decide the podium. Bad luck in the form of a flat tire 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. Taylor- Brown, never a quitter, began to make up time.
“The puncture wasn’t ideal, I heard it literally blow with about 2km to go when we were coming out of the park” .Georgia Taylor-Brown told World Triathlon media. “I thought it was my brakes but then the next thing my wheel got very bumpy. I was right near a wheel station but decided not to stop because I would have lost more time. So I just rode on the flat. I managed to get back on the girls on the straight, going under the bridge, but then it was the corners, I couldn’t do it. I did panic, that’s the whole race I have been in front and I have lost it with a few kilometers to go on the bike. I just had to keep my cool, not rush through transition, try and get everything right. I definitely went out quite hard on the first lap of the run but I think it paid off because I got back in the race and it made me me more aggressive to be back in the race and not fighting from the back.”
Within the first few hundred meters, Duffy took absolute charge. After lap one, Duffy led by 100 meters. Halfway through the 10-kilomeger run, Duffy led Zaferes by 47 seconds, Taylor-Brown by 52 seconds, Learmonth by 1:37l, Klamer by 1:59 and Spirig by 2:00.
After Lap 3, Duffy continued her relentless push to gain more ground, while Zaferes fought to holdoff Taylor-Brown. A few meters into the final lap, Taylor-Brown finally blazed past Zaferes.
After a 33-minute run split, Duffy finished in 1:55:36 with a 1:14 margin on Taylor-Brown and 1:27 on Zaferes, who exulted in her recovery from a broken nose and ribs crash at the Tokyo Olympic Qualfication race in the summer of 2019. Zaferes also had to overcome loss off fitness that led her to struggle without making automatic qualification for the third U.S. Olympic slot. Thankfully for Zaferes, U.S. selectors chose her to fill the final slot which she repaid their faith that she could recover in time to earn a bronze.
“I knew if had six weeks of hard training I could get myself into a good spot,” Katie Zaferes told World Triathlon media.. "My dad passed away in April and I had two really rough races so to have the confidence to execute that today, and to be on the podium today makes me so proud.”
Late in the race .the rain abated and the sun started to come out during the bike portion of the race, a rainbow appeared. Zaferes said she knew it was a sign that her dad was watching and supporting her.
The top national performance by the women was earned by Great Britain – Taylor-Brown (2nd) Learmonth (9th) and Vicky Holland (13th). U.S. women came close – Zaferes (3rd), Rappaport 14th and Taylor Knibb (16th).
Flora Duffy’s overall time of 1:55:36 was the best women’s Olympic time ever, topping Gwen Jorgensen’s 2016 winning time by 40 seconds and Emma Snowsill’s 2008 winning time by 2:50.
Duffy also set a women’s record Olympic run split as her 33:00 topped Emma Snowsill’s 2008 run split by 16 seconds and Kate Allen’s 2004 run split by 47 seconds.
Duffy also set a women’s Olympic record for largest margin of victory. Duffy’s margin over Georgia Taylor-Brown was 1:14, 7 seconds more than Emma Snowsill’s margin over Vanessa Fernandes in 2008 and 34 seconds greater than Jorgensen’s winning margin over Nicola Spirig at Rio in 2016.
Women’s Olympic Triathlon
July 26, 2021
S 1.5k / B 40k / R 10k
1. Flora Duffy (BER) S 18:32 T1 00:41 B 1:02:49 T2 00:34 R 33:00 TOT 1:55:36
2. Georgia Taylor-Brown (GBR) S 18:31 T1 00L42 B 1:03:11 T2 00:34 R 33:52 TOT 1:56:50
3. Katie Zaferes (USA) S 18L28 T1 00:43 B 1:02:51 T2 00:34 R 34:27 TOT 1:57:03
4. Rachel Klamer (NED) S 19:17 T1 00:44 B 1:03:05 T2 00:33 R 34:09 TOT 1:57:48
5. Leonie Periault (FRA) S 19:13 T1 00:43 T2 00:34 R 34:06 TOT 1:57:49
6. Nicola Spirig (SUI) S 19:32 T1 00:43 B 1:02:50 T2 00:32 R 34:28 TOT 1:58:05
7. Alice Betto (ITA) S 19:14 T1 b00:42 B 1:03:11 T2 00:33 R 34:42 TOT 1:58:22
8. Laura Lindemann (GER) S 18:36 T1 00:41 B 1:02:46 T2 00:33 R 35:48 T0T 1:58:24
9. Jessica Learmonth (GBR) S 18:24 T1 00:43 B 1:02:56 T2 00:34 R 35:51 TOT 1:58:28
10. Valerie Barthelemy (BEL) S 19:18 T1 b00:41 B 1:03:07 T2 00:34 R 35:12 TOT 1:58:49
11. Maya Kingma (NED) S 19:20 T1 00:43 B 1:03:03 T2 00:34 R 35:36 TOT 1:59:16
12. Zsanett Bragmayer (HUN) S 19:19 T1 00:42 B 1:03:07 T2 00:34 R 36:18 TOT 2:00:00
13. Vicky Holland (GBR) S 19:12 T1 00:43 B 1:05:24 T2 00:31 R 34:20 TOT 2:00:10
14. Summer Rappaport (USA) S 18:29 T100:41 B 1:03:58 T2 00:36 R 36:35 TOT 2:00:19
15. Amelie Kretz (CAN) S 19:39 T1 00:44 B 1:04:56 T2 00:33 R 34:41 TOT 2:00:33
16. Taylor Knibb (USA) S 19:52 T1 00:45 B 1:04:42 T2 00:34 R 35:06 TOT 2:00:59
17. Simone Ackermann (RSA) S 19:08 T1 00:45 B 1:03:17 T2 00:34 R 37:30 TOT 2:01:14
18. Yuko Takahashi (JPN) S 19:10 T1 00:42 B 1:03:15 T2 00:31 R 37:40 TOT 2:01:18
19. Jolanda Annen (SUI) S 19:32 T1 00:44 B 1:05:04 T2 00:35 R 35:36 TOT 2:01:31
20. Verena Steinhauser (ITA) S 19:42 T1 00:44 B 1:04:52 T2 00:33 R 35:56 TOT 2:01:47