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Flora Duffy reflects on her incredible 2016

Flora Duffy takes the inaugural Montreal World Cup race.
Flora Duffy takes the inaugural Montreal World Cup race.


— By Marcia Jansen

Flora Duffy had an incredible year. She did what no one else expected by keeping Gwen Jorgensen from the ITU world title, and wrapped up two other world titles in the XTERRA World Championships and the ITU Cross Triathlon World Championship at the end of the season.  TMC-contributor Marcia Jansen caught up with Flora just before she traveled back home to spend the Christmas holidays with her family in Bermuda.

“This season was a whirlwind and kind of ridiculous,” smiles Duffy when asked how she looks back at the past year. “It’s been a long season as well, with the ITU Cross Triathlon championships just a month ago. So I am looking forward  to going to Bermuda, seeing my family and enjoying the sun and the beach. I will definitely do some training there as well. It’s getting pretty cold now in Boulder, where I live during the season, so I hope to get some good riding in over the holidays.”

Flora Duffy landed her first podium spot (third) in a World Triathlon Series race in 2015 in Abu Dhabi, followed by a second place in Edmonton the same year. “After last season I realized that if I ever wanted to win, I had to use my strength in the swim and on the bike. I had to figure out how well I could run after a hard bike leg. In order to do that, I started to work with a new running coach, Ernie Gruhn, in Stellenbosch, South Africa, where I train in winter. It was not about running more or harder, but we were more focussed on mechanics on top of little things, that would make me run solid after a hard bike ride.”

All the hard work paid off for the first time in the WTS-race in Gold Coast, where Helen Jenkins, Andrea Hewitt, and Duffy took a 90 seconds lead in the bike leg. Jenkins managed to take the win and break Jorgensen’s winning streak. Duffy finished fourth. “That was a game-changing moment,” says Duffy who realized that very moment that  Jorgensen – who’d dominated the series since 2014 – wasn’t invincible. “I knew if I worked hard from the beginning of the race, there was a chance of beating her. I like to race hard, but I have to be smart as well. I learned that the hard way in Leeds, where I biked too hard and it backfired on the run. It’s a learning process, you experience things, analyze what went wrong and take it with you in the next race.”

And that’s exactly what she did in Stockholm, where she captured her first-ever World Triathlon Series race. “I definitely had a more controlled race than in Leeds. I took a one minute lead on the bike course, but when I started to run, there were only 25 seconds left. Sometimes you must just have the confidence to not go too fast.”  Her victory gave her the determination to go for the jackpot in the Grand Final in Cozumel.  “It was the first time I had hope for an opening in the door. Maybe I could win if everything went right? Stockholm was definitely a turning point and it made me even more motivated to hold on for gold in Cozumel.”

The Olympic race in Rio, in between Stockholm and Cozumel, didn’t progress as she hoped, but it didn’t let her discourage her. “Everyone there was 110 percent motivated and racing aggressively. You have to have a perfect day to make it on the podium. I had a great day and finished eighth.” Duffy had her perfect day in the Grand Finale race in Cozumel, where she not only won the race but also secured her place in history as the 2016 ITU World Triathlon Series Champion. Duffy dominated the race on the bike and was even nine seconds faster than Jorgensen in the final 10K run.  “The conditions were perfect for me. Hot and humid, like I am used to in Bermuda. I was prepared for the heat, wearing a cool vest and a cold towel around my neck before the race. I tried to sweat as little as I could before the start, I saw a lot of girls already drenched before the race.”

Duffy topped off her season by winning the XTERRA World Championships on Maui – for the third time in a row – and the Snowy Mountains ITU Cross Triathlon World Championships in Australia. After the XTERRA championships, Duffy went back home to Bermuda to see her family, where she was welcomed by Minister of Social Development & Sports Sylvan Richards at the airport. The people back home are proud of their multiple world champion.  “I’ve been told that there were no cars on the streets when I raced in Rio. Bermuda is a small island and a lot of people know who I am now.  Grocery shopping is definitely more time consuming than it used to be. It’s quite a bit of a change for me since I am an introvert, but it’s nice that people are interested in me. I know this won’t  last forever, so I am thankful for it.”  

With 2016 almost over, it’s time to look forward to next season. Duffy thought of taking on some longer distances in 2017, but after capturing the world title, she will stick to a similar program as she did this season. “The focus is on the ITU World Championships Series and I will combine that with some off road races again. I am also contemplating an Ironman 70.3, but I have to see how the year unfolds, before making a decision on that.”