Up and coming triathlon star Nicole van der Kaay, of Taupo, has finished an impressive seventh in a strong women's field at the Commonwealth Games.

In the opening event of the 21st Commonwealth Games today all eyes were on Andrea Hewitt, who was expected to be New Zealand's best hope of a medal. However, after a blowout in the swim, she was never in contention and it was van der Kaay who was the best of the Kiwis, finishing 1m 41s behind winner Flora Duffy, of Bermuda.

Fellow Kiwi Rebecca Spence finished 10th and Hewitt finished 13th.

Duffy and England's Jessica Learnmonth, who finished second, established a huge lead after a strong, sub-nine minute 750m swim, and extended that over the 20km bike and 5km run.

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Off the neck-and-neck bike, Duffy's run home proved far too strong – jumping out to an 18 second lead after one lap – to claim the first gold of the 2018 Games with relative ease, finishing in 56m 50s.

Van der Kaay and Spence began the run in contention for bronze but could not stick with Canada's Joanna Brown. Van der Kaay showed great heart to finish seventh.

This sprint format leaves no room for error, no time to make up serious ground, and with van der Kaay best placed of the Kiwis 42 seconds back after the swim, it was always going to be too difficult to medal from there.

Speaking after the race van der Kaay said the race was "definitely" hard work.

"There's no mucking around the best of the Commonwealth. I definitely [count this as success] ... I was one of the youngest. Learnt just how tough it is.

"The swim was pretty rough, I got a bit caught up with arms over me," she said.

Van der Kaay said Hewitt was "a huge inspiration".

"She can really put some power out there".

Hewitt said she was disappointed with her swim.

"I did the first 200m really badly. I've changed my technique on the swim and thought I would at least keep up with the pack. The first 200m I got swum over the top of, that was the end of my race.

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"It's cool to have done the three Commonwealth Games ... last year [Duffy] was unbeatable."