Flora Duffy wins 2018 Commonwealth title

Bermudan takes first Commonwealth title, while Leeds' Jessica Learmonth wins England's first medal of the Games as team-mate Vicky Holland settles for fourth

Jess Learmonth, Flora Duffy and Joanna Brown on the podium

After a dominant race from beginning to end, Flora Duffy claimed the first gold medal of the Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast to, temporarily, put her country on top of the medal table. England’s Jessica Learmonth claimed silver, and Canada’s Joanna Brown bronze.

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The race started with Duffy, Learmonth and Sophie Coldwell (ENG) leading the swim from the very first strokes, on a windy but warm day in Southport Broadwater Parklands.

With the water temp reaching 24.1°, the hot and humid conditions were hard for all, but Duffy and Learmonth imposed a frantic rhythm as soon as they mounted their bikes, a few seconds ahead of the Coldwell.

The two worked together to decent lead to hold off the chasing pack, which included strong runners Ashleigh Gentle (AUS), Vicky Holland (ENG) and Brown.

By the end of the fast-and-flat 20km course, the leading duo had managed to maintain an almost 1min lead over the chasers – a minute that would prove too much for the chasing pack.

With Duffy speeding up in the first few meters of the 5km run, Learmonth tried to match the Bermudan’s pace while keeping an anxious eye on those closing in behind. And with good reason, as teammates Coldwell and Holland, along with Gentle and Brown, were speeding up, cheered by the thousands of spectators lining the course.

The last kilometre was more of a fun run for Duffy, smiling to the adoring crowd, knowing that the first medal of the Games was almost hers.

Looking confident and grabbing a Bermudian flag, Duffy crossed the finish line to claim her first ever gold medal at a Commonwealth Games, stopping the clock on 56:50.

“I came in the favourite so that adds its own pressure”, said Duffy at the line. “I am getting used to the pressure – from 2016 (winning the ITU World Championships) I had to get used to it, it is the space in which I am.

“There will be media and people watching me, so I just try to forget about it and do my thing.”

With the gold medal hanging brightly on her neck and a huge smile on her face, she added: “I’ve always dreamed of this so I can’t let it get to me. Jess was phenomenal. I held onto her, we work well together, we race so often together that we have an understanding.

“The Games don’t come around often and it’s hard to get into. I am from a tiny country with not a lot of medallists so I am expected to win. I try to forget about it because I do it every week, so that’s how I deal with the pressure.

“There’s a 50-foot poster of me in town. Being an introvert it gets a bit much, but it’s great to inspire.”

“I’m ecstatic”, said Learmonth right after crossing the finish line. “The course was full on and it was really hot. I’m more used to the rain.” Even though she made clear that running “is not my strength”, she was hoping to win (the race) but still happy (with second).

But perhaps the biggest smile to cross the finish line  belonged to Brown. After crashing in Abu Dhabi four weeks ago, and fracturing her shoulder, she didn’t even know whether she will be able to compete in the Games a couple of weeks ago.

“There are no words to describe this feeling right now. It has been the most chaotic month, but I have had the most incredible team of doctors and physiotherapists and coaches who have helped me a lot.”

“I was kind of in the middle of the pack during the swim and then coming onto the bike I was a bit nervous having fallen off and fractured my shoulder less than a month ago, so I just chilled on there.

“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. I really wanted it, so I’m super happy with the result.”

England’s Vicky Holland, who took bronze in Glasgow 2014, ran in for fourth, while Aussie Ashleigh Gentle took fifth: “I’m a bit disappointed, the run doesn’t usually let me down. Overall I’m disappointed I didn’t bring home a gold for Australia. It would have been nice to have better organisation on the bike.”

Top image: ITU Media/Delly Carr

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