Australian surfer Sally Fitzgibbons.
Sally Fitzgibbons on her way to winning her fourth International Surfing Association world title. Image by EPA PHOTO
  • surfing

Olympic heartbreak after Fitzgibbons clinches surf gold

Melissa Woods March 4, 2024

Sally Fitzgibbons has won her fourth International Surfing Association world title to become the most successful surfer in the competition’s history – but suffered the heartbreak of missing an Olympic berth.

The 33-year-old won a thrilling final at the event in Puerto Rico, battling her way through eight heats to add to her gold medals from 2008, 2018 and 2021.

But for Fitzgibbons to compete in her second Olympics at the Paris Games, Australia’s women needed to win the team competition. 

That would have clinched a third quota spot, with Molly Picklum and Tyler Wright already qualified for the Games through 2023’s World Surf League rankings. 

Sally Fitzgibbons celebrates her ISA world title.
 Sally Fitzgibbons celebrates her title success, but she narrowly missed out on an Olympic place. Image by AP PHOTO 

Current No.1 Picklum and two-time world champion Wright were eliminated in the repechage in Puerto Rico after losing in the fourth round and third rounds respectively of the main draw.

The third Olympic spot went to Brazil, after Tatiana Weston-Webb finished second in the final behind Fitzgibbons.

Her runner-up placing picked up 860 points which pushed Brazil into top spot with 1755 points. Australia finished second with 1720.

If Weston-Webb had finished third in the final, she would have only collected 730 points and Australia would have won the team event – and with it an extra Olympic berth.

France’s Johanne Defay placed third with Spain’s Nadia Erostarbe fourth – with all surfers in the final apart from Fitzgibbons headed to Tahiti’s Teahupo’o, where the Olympic competition will be held.

An emotional Fitzgibbons was swamped by her teammates after exiting the water and was in tears during the post-final interview, although she didn’t appear to know her Olympic fate at that stage.

She said her fourth title was the sweetest of all.

“For sure, just being out there with the crew I’ve surfed with the last however many years of my career and going toe-to-toe and dropping scores all day,” she said.

“I just had to keep that belief and trust in surfing, and just trying to get that way at the right moment at the right time and, oh, I feel amazing.

“I’m just so proud to be Australian.”

Brazil’s Gabriel Medina won the men’s event to edge team France by 41 points for the additional Olympic quota spot, meaning his nation will be the only one to have a maximum contingent of six surfers at the Games.

The three-time world champion beat Morocco’s Ramzi Boukhiam in the final, followed by Frenchmen Kauli Vaast and Joan Duru.

The Australian men’s team finished fifth overall, with Ethan Ewing – who bowed out in the repechage after losing his round six heat – the best performer.

More than a dozen other surfers qualified for the Olympics through the event, which featured competitors from 55 nations.

Among them was 14-year-old Yang Siqi, who became the first Chinese surfer to qualify for the Olympics and will be the youngest in the women’s field.