What an Olympic journey it has been for Bermuda’s Flora Duffy. On Tuesday morning in Tokyo, 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 silver after suffering the misfortune of a puncture at the end of the bike segment that put her 20 seconds off the front and fighting back into contention. USA’s Katie Zaferes won the bronze and an equally hard-earned podium on a tough day in Tokyo.
“To be an Olympic champion has been my dream since I was a little girl and did my first triathlon,” said Duffy. “Going through my head, I guess 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.”
Two-time U.S. Olympian Katie Zaferes earned her first career Olympic medal. The bronze by Zaferes, a 32-year-old Syracuse University graduate, is the third U.S. medal in women’s triathlon history at the Olympic Games. Gwen Jorgensen won gold at the Rio 2016 Games, and Susan Williams earned bronze at the Athens 2004 Games.
Zaferes’ father, Bill Hursey, passed away unexpectedly in April of 2021. She struggled in her first two races of the 2021 season, the World Triathlon Championship Series events in Yokohama, Japan, in May, and Leeds, England, in June. When the rain abated and the sun started to come out during the bike portion of the race, a rainbow appeared — and Zaferes said she knew it was a sign that her dad was watching and supporting her.
“There are so many people who I am so thankful for who supported me through a really, really hard time, and my whole team got me to here today,” Zaferes said. “I feel like I used everything, every ounce of support, every lesson learned. I saw a rainbow during the race and I thought, ‘Hey, dad.’ Everything came together for me. I know I didn’t win, but it feels like it.”
Triathletes at the Tokyo Games competed at Odaiba Marine Park, a coastal tourist attraction with views of Tokyo’s iconic Rainbow Bridge. Athletes covered a 1,500-meter swim in Tokyo Bay, followed by a 40-kilometer draft-legal bike and 10-kilometer run around the park and surrounding city streets. The race was delayed by 15 minutes due to torrential rain, which abated slightly by the start. The weather created slick and technical conditions on the bike, causing several crashes while rewarding technical skill. Temperatures during the race hovered around 75 degrees Fahrenheit, with water temperatures at 81 degrees and on-and-off rain throughout.
All three U.S. women competing in Tokyo finished in the top 20. Summer Rappaport (Thornton, Colo.), a Villanova University graduate, placed 14th with a time of 2:00:19. Taylor Knibb (Washington, D.C.), a Cornell University graduate, finished 16th in 2:00:59. Both Rappaport, 29, and Knibb, 23, are first-time U.S. Olympians. Knibb is the youngest woman in history to represent Team USA in women’s triathlon at the Olympic Games.
Zaferes started the day with a strong swim, exiting the water in third place just behind Great Britain’s Jessica Learmonth and Brazil’s Vittoria Lopes, with Rappaport right on her heels. A seven-woman lead pack formed on the bike, also including Rappaport, Taylor-Brown, Duffy and Germany’s Laura Lindemann. By the end of the eight-lap bike course, the lead group had thinned to five, as Rappaport and Lopes joined the chasers.
Starting the four-lap run, the leaders had a gap of more than a minute on the rest of the field. Duffy immediately pulled out ahead, while Zaferes settled into second place until she was overtaken by Taylor-Brown on the final lap.
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 emotion poured out. Taylor-Brown had passed Zaferes and pulled clear for a gutsy silver, the American lighting up as she crossed for the bronze in 1:57:03, 13 seconds behind Taylor-Brown.
— USA Triathlon and World Triathlon contributed to this report