On the face of it, Sally Fitzgibbons could not have timed her run to the Tokyo Olympics much better, after the Australian surfer’s hot streak continued with a gold medal at the final qualification event for the Games.
Victory at the ISA World Surfing Games in El Salvador came after Fitzgibbons won her first event title of the World Surf League season at Rottnest Island last month and marks her out as one of the women to beat once the delayed Games get under way on 25 June.
Fitzgibbons did it the hard way at Lo Bocana and El Sunzal surf breaks, securing gold by emerging unscathed from a total of 11 heats after having been relegated to the repecharge rounds last week. It meant she had to win through a series of seven sudden death match-ups.
But having navigated her way through to the final, the current world No 2 was able to claim gold with a 14.1 point total ahead of Portuguese pair Yolanda Sequeira and Teresa Bonvalot. Peruvian Daniella Rosas came in fourth.
For good measure, victory in El Salvador saw her make history as the first athlete to win gold three times at the World Surfing Games, following successes in 2008 and 2018.
Having now won on her last two outings and also had the opportunity to check out her Olympic rivals during the 51-nation competition in Central America, Fitzgibbons is brimming with confidence in the build up to the Games in Japan, where the sport will make its Olympic debut.
“This event has been an unreal platform to test our mental strength,” said Fitzgibbons. “It’s surreal to be wearing the gold medal at the end of the week.
“This is a great runway heading into Tokyo 2020. Just competing and seeing all the Olympians get their spots is great. Being on the World Tour we don’t get to surf against a lot of the other Olympians. It’s good practice to go against them and spend time bonding with the rest of the Aussie team.
“Surfing has finally arrived as a global sport. It’s got the recognition now. We are going to the Olympics. It’s cool to have that as a milestone in my career. I want to go as long as I can in the sport because I love it.”
Fitzgibbons has already been selected to represent Australia at the Games, alongside Stephanie Gilmore, Owen Wright and Julian Wilson, but the quartet had to attend the event in El Salvador to be eligible to compete in Tokyo.
The Australian team, recently rebranded as the Irukandjis, finished fifth overall after Gilmore reached the seventh round of the women’s competition and Wright pushed deep into the men’s draw before falling in repecharge nine. Wilson made it through to the fourth. Frenchman Joan Duru won the men’s event and, with compatriot Jeremy Flores picking up bronze, France won the team gold medal.
Other top names on the WSL tour such as Carissa Moore and Caroline Marks of the US and Brazil’s world No 1 Gabriel Medina checked out of the competition early once they had fulfilled their qualification requirements.
Australia’s surfers will now head to California and Mexico for WSL events before finally heading to Japan for next month’s start to the Games.