A Small Nation, A Big Medal: Boulder Local Flora Duffy Wins First Olympic Gold For Bermuda
In a historic week in the Olympics, two nations achieved their first ever gold medals, and both of those achievements were thanks to women athletes. For the Philippines, Hidilyn Diaz won first place in weightlifting, and for Bermuda, Flora Duffy brought home the gold in the triathlon.
While she was representing the island nation where she was born and raised, Duffy is also a Coloradan. The Boulder resident lives and trains in the state for six months out each year.
Erin O’Toole spoke to Flora Duffy, who called in from the Olympic Village in Tokyo just one day after winning the first gold medal for Bermuda.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Erin O’Toole: I can't imagine how it must feel to not only have won an Olympic gold medal, but to bring home your country's first ever gold medal. What is this moment like for you?
Flora Duffy: It's definitely a pretty surreal moment. I don't think it's quite sunk in yet. But I mean, leading up to the race, I definitely knew that I had some of the pressure of expectation of being someone that could win Bermuda another medal. We have won one in the Montreal Olympics 40 years ago, but going in as a favorite, I knew it was possible to do the gold, and also be the first woman to win a medal. I definitely had all of that on my back going into the race. So to have achieved it, it feels like a massive relief. I think I feel relaxed for the first time in many years and just so excited that I could achieve my personal, lifelong sporting goal. And then also to do it for Bermuda and make the country so proud is really special.
This was your fourth Olympic Games and first gold medal. To what do you attribute that success? How did you manage to overcome some previous setbacks and go on and win the gold?
I think it's just maturing as an athlete and getting better year after year, putting in the training and putting in the hard work. Of course, I've had many injuries, many ups and downs, but that's just part of the journey of being a professional athlete. I learned a lot in Rio. I actually went into that sort of as one of the outside favorites. But at that time in my career, it was just way too much of a moment for me. And I really struggled with sort of some of the pressure and expectation. And so I learned a lot from that.
I've just sort of steadily built getting more comfortable in the favorites group. And that's definitely a skill you have to learn. So I could go into this games pretty comfortable with being one of the favorites. And as I said, it's much easier to say that than to actually do that on race day and on the one day of the year that it really matters. It's definitely not crazy for me.
You represent the nation of Bermuda, and now it is the least populated nation to ever win a gold medal. Throughout your time as a professional athlete, I am wondering how has representing such a small country made your experience different from athletes who represent larger countries?
I think it's very, very different. If I just think about the usual races that I attend on the world triathlon circuit, I'm often the only Bermudan racing. And then I'm up against countries like the United States or Great Britain that are fully funded. They have coaches there, the mechanics, a physio. There's five or six of them in the race and they have this whole team atmosphere. And, you know, everything is taken care of.
And for me, for a long time, I was going to these races by myself and just trying to manage everything that needs to be done at a race kind of by myself in all of these foreign countries. And it was definitely overwhelming. But at the same time, I have a lot more freedom and flexibility to pick and choose what races I want to do and where I want to train. Now, it's great because I'm in a position where I have success. So yes, I might be the only person at these races from Bermuda, but I feel like I can equally compete with them. I'm always flying the flag for Bermuda, so I think if I win for myself, it's a big win for my country. And everyone gets really excited and I get massive support. So that makes it pretty special and a lot more personal.
While you represent Bermuda, you have been a Coloradan for quite a while. You graduated from CU Boulder with a degree in sociology in 2013 and continue to train here for six months out of the year. The state is pretty well known for having a fit, active mindset. So really, it's no surprise that Colorado provided the third-highest number of Olympic athletes of any other states. How does living in a place with such an active lifestyle impact you as an athlete?
I love being in Colorado. I'm in Boulder where like every triathlete is. There's so many of us there, which I like because it’s just normal to be a triathlete. It's actually normal to be a world champion. But the training is fantastic and it's a beautiful town. Yeah. Everyone is quite outdoorsy and sporty and it's nice. I like that. I can train there but also have a life removed from triathlon. Boulder is definitely a very special place to me, and I owe a lot of my sporting success to being there and the athletes that I've been surrounded by and the coaches that I've had there.
And lastly, I asked you earlier what this moment felt like for you. What does this moment feel like for Bermuda?
Oh, man. I think for Bermuda, they’re just going crazy there right now. I think everyone is so proud. That's what I meant when I said it’s personal. Not just for me, I think for every Bermudan invested in me racing yesterday. I also hope that it inspires a lot of the youth in Bermuda to know that, yes, we're from a small island, but that doesn't mean it's not possible to compete on the world stage. It's just really cool that they're so proud and excited for the win.
This conversation is part of KUNC's Colorado Edition for July 28. You can find the full episode here.