GOLD COAST, Australia — Flora Duffy left no doubt about her status as a two-time world champion and the No. 1-ranked woman in triathlon.
The Bermuda athlete, who started competing in triathlons when she was just seven years old, won the sprint race Thursday by 43 seconds to take the first gold medal at the 21st Commonwealth Games.
In the final 20 or 30 meters, when her victory was guaranteed, Duffy grabbed a Bermuda flag from a spectator and draped it over her body as she crossed the finish line.
“I felt very good today, very consistent in every part of the race,” Duffy said. “And pretty cool that I won the first gold medal of these games.”
Duffy, 30, came out the opening 750-meter swim leg just behind Jessica Learmonth, both around 9 minutes, 35 seconds. But Duffy quickly caught the English racer and the pair staged their own duel for much of the 20-kilometer bike leg — four laps around the Broadwater Parklands — trading places numerous times.
Cycling is Duffy’s strongest leg — so strong that she is entered in the mountain bike competition on April 12.
Under sunny skies and a temperature of 27 Celsius (81 Fahrenheit), Duffy and Learmonth finished the cycle leg together in 39.23.
Duffy took a five-second lead over Learmonth early in the 5-kilometer run and then powered away to lead by 18 seconds after the first lap.
Duffy finished the race in 56:50, with Learmonth well behind to take silver. Canadian Joanna Brown earned bronze, finishing five seconds behind Learmonth after a tight tussle over the closing meters with England’s Vicky Holland.
Learmonth said she was “ecstatic” with her silver.
“The course was full-on and it was really hot,” she said. “I’m more used to the rain. Running is not my strength. I was hoping to win but still happy with second.”
Brown fractured her shoulder at an ITU World Triathlon event in Abu Dhabi in March, so her bronze was a big surprise.
“There are no words to describe this feeling right now,” Brown said. “I have had the most incredible team of doctors and physiotherapists and coaches who have helped me a lot.”
“I haven’t done much road training so that also made me nervous. I have been doing a lot of running training so I knew that was going to be my strongest leg, so I just ramped it up there.”
Holland said she “lost” her legs at the end of the run leg and thought Brown “deserved the bronze.”
“She ran really smart to finish it off, and deserved all the credit,” Holland said.
The sprint race replaced the Olympic distance that was held at previous Commonwealth Games, and is considered to be the future of the sport. It’s half of the distance of each of the Olympic disciplines.
But the shorter race doesn’t mean it’s an easier race — Duffy says its more taxing on all the athletes.
“It’s full on, pedal to the metal all the time,” she said.” It’s very tough.”
The men’s triathlon will be held on Thursday afternoon.