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A s the 2012 London Olympic Games approached, Boulder's Flora Duffy was so focused on training that her coach commissioned another athlete to help her keep things light and loose.
All last summer, fellow Boulder triathlete Omar Nour became her shadow -- following her on runs, swims and rides, trying to make her laugh and keep things in perspective, while uber-focused Duffy honed in on her goal of an Olympic medal.
"Leading up to something like the Games, it can be an extremely stressful experience," Nour said, adding that Duffy is exceptionally calculated and committed when preparing for races. "So the joke was, I became her shadow and she became my shadow cast."
The London games didn't go as planned, but Duffy is finishing up her senior year and trying to put the past behind her. With Rio 2016 in her sights, the senior sociology major at the University of Colorado-Boulder says she's ready to put away her books and focus solely on training and resting.
Duffy, originally from Bermuda, had prepared meticulously for London, only to crash in the first lap of the 43-kilometer cycling leg.
The 25-year-old's first Olympics, 2008 in Beijing, didn't end well either. Duffy, then age 20, didn't finish the race and quit competing altogether for the next two years. An eating disorder and years of pressure as a teenager had left her exhausted, mentally and emotional burned out and disenchanted with the sport.
She moved to Boulder to attend CU on a whim -- it would be a nice change of scenery from island life in Bermuda, she could get her degree and if -- if -- she wanted to get back into triathlons, Boulder was a good place to be.
Eventually, Apex Coaching and Boulder Center for Sports Medicine's Neal Henderson talked her into getting back on the bike for some cycling-only races. She tried out cyclocross, did some local road races and realized that competing again wasn't as painful as she remembered.
"He gradually got me back into it, very slowly, didn't push me," Duffy said before and afternoon swim workout in Boulder. "Everything just kind of clicked again for me."
After more than two years off, Duffy was back.
In May 2012, she qualified for the London Olympics by finishing sixth at the ITU World Triathlon San Diego. While training, Duffy said she felt like everything was coming together perfectly, like all the key components to a great Olympic race were aligned.
The vast mental difference between training for Beijing at age 20 and London at age 24 made Duffy more confident in her ability to race at the highest level.
"I had to go through so much between 18 and 20, now I have such a different perspective on the sport," she said. I do this for myself and because I love it. As soon as I start to fall out of love with the sport, I'm done. It's a much more mature outlook on things now."
On the morning of the race in London, it had rained hard, making the streets slick. Since the racecourse took them through central London, Duffy wondered about oil on the roads.
As a pack of cyclists approached a normal, easy street corner, Australian and 2008 Olympic bronze medallist Emma Moffatt slid out, taking Duffy and about six other cyclists with her.
"That split second, crashing and hitting the pavement -- my Olympic dream was just over," Duffy recalled. "At the Olympics, everybody is on. If you have one small, minor mishap it's like, boom, you're done."
At 25, Duffy said she was much better place mentally and emotionally to deal with her 45th place finish in London than she was in Beijing.
Duffy knows she has a chance to compete in at least two more Olympic triathlons, so while she was disappointed with her finish and the crash was heartbreaking, she's moving on.
"She's still got more," said Henderson.
He's looking forward to her graduation, too, so that she can start getting the proper amount of recovery time she needs between workouts. Sure, she has plenty of time between workouts, Henderson said, but she's stressing out about school, studying late into the night and running frantically between scheduled workouts and classes.
Duffy says, at times, she doesn't know how she manages it all.
"I go into a little hole sometimes and don't come out," she said, laughing.
--Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta.