Sally Fitzgibbons handed Olympics lifeline after Games surfing hopes appeared dashed

The Aussie surfing star thought she'd missed out on the chance to qualify for the Paris Olympics.

Sally Fitzgibbons.
Sally Fitzgibbons has been handed one final crack to make the 2024 Olympics. Image: Getty

All is not lost in Sally Fitzgibbons' hopes of going to the Paris Olympics after she was announced as a shock selection in an upcoming surfing event that will offer the winner a qualification spot. Fitzgibbons' dreams of going to a second Olympics appeared to have been dashed last year when she fell victim to the WSL's controversial mid-season cut.

Because she wasn't surfing in the top-tier competition - instead forced to ply her trade in the Challenger series - she missed out on qualifying for the Olympics. But this week it came to light that the 33-year-old had been selected in Australia's squad for the World Surfing Games.

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The International Surfing Association event will take place in Puerto Rico next month, and serves as the final qualification event for the Paris Games. Fitzgibbons and Morgan Cibilic will join Jack Robinson, Ethan Ewing, Tyler Wright and Molly Picklum - who have already qualified for the Olympics - in Australia's Irukandjis team.

The winning men's and women's teams will earn their country another spot at the Olympics. Fitzgibbons and Cibilic would seemingly be in the box seat for selection if they are able to guide Australia to victory.

Ewing, Robinson, Wright and Picklum all qualified for the Games by finishing as Australia's highest-ranked competitors in the most recent World Surf League season. Fitzgibbons has been forced to re-qualify for the top-tier competition, and will be back on the Championship Tour in 2024. Cibilic finished in the top five on the Championship Tour in 2021, but then missed the cut and has been plugging away on the second-tier tour ever since.

The gruelling week-long competition will take from February 24 in Puerto Rico, and could see surfers compete in up to 11 heats if they go through repechage all the way to the final. If the Aussies win, it will be Surfing Australia's high-performance team who will make the call on which surfer earns the final spot at the Olympics. They will take into account recent form and suitability for the big-wave conditions likely to come in Tahiti - the French territory where the surfing competition will take place at the Games.

Sally Fitzgibbons at the WSL Awards.
Sally Fitzgibbons (far left) at the WSL Awards in 2023. (Photo by Brent Bielmann/World Surf League via Getty Images) (World Surf League via Getty Imag)

Sally Fitzgibbons in heartbreaking scenes at 2021 Olympics

Fitzgibbons has always been a passionate advocate for surfing having a place at the Olympics. She was left heartbroken at the Tokyo Games in 2021 when she suffered a brutal quarter-final defeat to local surfer Amuro Tsuzuki, denying her a shot at a medal. Owen Wright, who has since retired, won bronze for Australia in the men's event.

"Even after all these years it is such an honour and a special feeling to be selected to represent Team Australia," Fitzgibbons said. "Although the stakes are high it doesn't change how we all approach things as a team. Your best surfing is done when you are grounded and present in each of the tasks at hand ... the bigger picture will take care of itself."

Sally Fitzgibbons, pictured here at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.
Sally Fitzgibbons was left shattered at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Fitzgibbons has been runner-up in the world title race three times since her debut in 2009. She is relishing a return to the top-tier league in 2024.

"I feel like you can't let the story overwhelm you because it can be pretty black and white in saying like, 'you're on the tour or off it' and it doesn't dictate if you're surfing good or if you're still relevant but there's so many uncontrollables in surfing," she told AAP. "I feel like it goes beyond the result like this will be my 15th year on tour and it's kind of nice to go beyond the result.

"No-one really expects veterans to win because the new upstarts are so good and I think that's what I will bring to this year ... I just want to play the game well and do something I love. I understand the performance part isn't forever so I want to do the fun part until it runs out."

with AAP

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