Flora Duffy, gold medallist in the women’s triathlon at the last Olympics in Tokyo, is determined to repeat the feat again next year.
The mountains that surround Stellenbosch are a veritable paradise for sportspeople, offering the perfect challenge for both serious and recreational trainers.
And there is no shortage of takers. Any day, and throughout the daylight hours, the roads around the town heading up either the Drakenstein, Jonkershoek, Simonsberg or Stellenbosch mountains are filled with cyclists and runners.
For part of the year, among their number is Flora Duffy, gold medallist in the women’s triathlon at the last Olympics in Tokyo and determined to repeat the feat again next year.
The name of the 35-year-old might not immediately jump out at followers of South African sport and there is a good reason why.
Duffy hails from Bermuda, as far as you can get from the Cape winelands on the tip of the southern African continent. The tiny island lies some 1,000km off the US into the Atlantic and is a British overseas territory, renowned more for its pink beaches and the semi-formal knee length short pants.
She is royalty on the island; their only ever gold medallist and most famous sports person.
She ran to glory in the rain, having swum churning seas, and cycled in the wet before surging away from the field in Tokyo for a triumph that was decades in the making. Duffy has been an aspiring triathlete from before her 10th birthday and was competing at her fourth Olympics, having first gone to Beijing in 2008 at the age of 21.
She had paid her dues on the international triathlon circuit, winning the first of four world championships in 2016, and meeting fellow triathlete, South African Dan Hugo, who had success also on the world tour. The two married in 2017, and he has since become her coach and manager and hence the Stellenbosch connection.
“Stellenbosch has played a very big role in my preparations every single year. This is my 10th summer here,” Duffy tells FORBES AFRICA at her home in the quiet suburbs, where she starts her pre-season training which this year is very much focused on the defence of her Olympic title in just over 12 months’ time.
“A lot of people locally have really helped me, whether it’s to train with me or to help with a bit of coaching medically. Yeah, I have a really great team here. So when I come back in December/January, I can slot right back in and I have this community that’s very supportive.
“And yeah, there were are crucial people that have played important roles on my journey, building up towards Tokyo. So when I came back here, after Tokyo, there was some very meaningful people that I wanted to show the medal to and celebrate with,” says Duffy, engaging, affable and welcoming when FORBES AFRICA comes to visit.
The Olympic medal might have been a dream from early but Duffy admits the reaction to it – particularly on her island – was way more than she anticipated.
“I couldn’t believe how much. I planned so much about the race in Tokyo and performing my best to win. I never thought about the after and what it would mean to so many people in Bermuda, I just did not think of that all through,” he explains.
“So my world felt like it changed in an instant. And it was incredible to see the response and see how meaningful and how impactful winning Bermuda’s first-ever gold medal was to everyone back home. It was incredibly special and it felt like it was more than just this sport. And I think that’s a really powerful place to be.
“In some ways, being Olympic champion does change your life. But then I think my daily life is still the same thing. At the beginning of the season, I’m quite unfit. I turn up to training and I get hammered in the pool. And I’m like, ‘oh yeah, I am the Olympic champion but I’m also just a normal human in a way’.”
But Duffy wants to be anything but normal come July next year in Paris when she defends her gold.
“After winning in Tokyo, the start of the 2022 season was pretty tricky for me because I think for the first time I was sort of hit with, ‘well, why am I doing this? What now, I’ve achieved my biggest goal?’ And here I’m still training. So I really had to rethink it and kind of reframe why I’m still doing it.
“But then there’s this other part of me that obviously loves the Olympics, I’m still doing well, I’m still enjoying it for the most part. And being in Tokyo, everything went perfectly from a race point of view. But I didn’t have my friends, my family, my sponsors, that sort of Olympic experience, because of all the COVID protocols that were in place,” Duffy adds.
“So that’s really a big motivation, to go back to Paris and to have everyone there, almost regardless of the outcome, just to see it as sort of a celebration of my career, getting to race at the Olympics, as a defending champion in front of everybody.”