Fourth World Surfing Games gold medal for Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) sees her in a league of her own

All four of the women’s finalists had the opportunity to win an Olympic slot for their nation, though their scenarios were far more complicated than the men’s. Defending champion, Tatiana Weston-Webb (BRA), two-time medalist, Johanne Defay(FRA), recently qualified Paris 2024 athlete Nadia Erostarbe (ESP) and the winningest surfer in ISA history, Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS), went all out, knowing what was at stake for themselves and their nation.

The most consistent performer of the week, Defay opened with a 6.00, holding an early advantage, but was soon eclipsed by a 6.77 from Weston-Webb for a strong two-turn combo on her backhand, before the dynamic surfing of Fitzgibbons earned her a 6.83. A second 6.00 from Defay kept her in the lead, with Fitzgibbons and Weston-Webb initially unable to back up their scores, but as the heat progressed, Fitzgibbons found a 6.27 to solidify the lead and claim her unprecedented fourth WSG gold medal.

“I am in disbelief,” Fitzgibbons, also the 2007 ISA U/18 World Junior gold medalist, said. “This wave profile has challenged me all week and I knew I had to just keep putting myself in the conversation and just try and navigate all those heats and get to that Final. I really tried to just relax into my surfing and look for some of those bigger sections because they’re the most fun, and flarey surfing is going to win that Final.”

With Erostarbe unable to find a notable score, the results of Weston-Webb and Defay would determine the winner of the women’s team rankings. If Defay placed first, France would take it, if Weston-Webb placed second or third, Brazil would take it. Fitzgibbons did everything in her power to earn the slot for her nation, but in the end it was out of her hands, as Weston-Webb earned the silver medal, delivering the slot to Brazil. Defay took the bronze medal, Erostarbe, copper. Weston-Webb was over the moon to complete the picture and deliver Brazil a full six Olympic slots.

“It was our goal coming here to get both of those spots and we got them,” Weston-Webb said. “The team was really focused all week and we always lift each other up, and that’s what Brazil is.”

Fitzgibbons’ effort to secure the additional slot for Australia, bringing them as close as conceivably possible, was both a bittersweet and proud moment.

“Within my story I’ve had many of these moments where there’s these near misses,” Fitzgibbons said. “I try to really just look at what is happening and for me to do everything I can. To win that gold medal for my country, that moment is now, and that’s all I could do in my control. I’ve learnt to roll with those and really see the beauty in them. There is disappointment there, but on the other side I just couldn’t be more stoked and that’s what I focus on.”

ISA President Fernando Aguerre said:

“What an incredible day, week and championship. We will never forget Puerto Rico, we will never forget this best World Surfing Games ever. We go home as ambassadors of Puerto Rico. Our hope is to be back. Congratulations to all the athletes, to all the delegations. We will see you in July in Teahupo’o for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.”