Owen Wright secured surfing’s first Olympic Games medal by beating Brazil’s Gabriel Medina in the men’s bronze medal contest.
Tuesday 27th July will be marked in surfing history as the day when the first Olympic medals were won, with the NSWIS-supported Wright ensuring Australia would leave the Japanese shores with a medal in the sport.
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NSW’s Owen Wright and Sally Fitzgibbons were part of the final day’s action, having both qualified for the quarter-finals, which would take place ahead of the afternoon medal contests, all set within very challenging windy and choppy water conditions.
First up for the Irukandjis was Wright as he took to the water in the last of the men’s quarter-finals, where he was measured and clinical in his wave selection and compiled a total score 12.74 made up of 6.67 and 6.07 scoring waves. His opponent, Peru’s Lucca Mesinas, could only muster a total of 7.83 and Wright progressed to the semi-final to take on Brazil’s Italo Ferreira, after he won his quarter final contest with the rounds highest score of 16.30.
Wright was followed in the quarters by Fitzgibbons against host nation surfer Amuro Tsuzuki.
Fitzgibbons struggled to find the right waves in the challenging conditions and while still achieving a total score of 11.67, it wasn’t enough to beat Tsuzuki, leaving the Australian heartbreakingly short of the medal rounds.
Fitzgibbons’ Olympic journey had clearly meant an incredible amount, which was clear from her post competition interview with Olympic broadcaster Channel Seven.
“I wanted to do it for my team and country today, it didn’t happen but I had my best time,” she said. “My heart is shattered.”
“I will always remember being one of the first surfing Olympians, I hope it goes from strength to strength. I am going to work really hard and hopefully see you all in 2024.”
The competition moved onto the semi-final stage and Wright’s contest was a cagey affair; his selective wave positioning which had proved effective throughout the competition, against Ferreira’s constant aerial threat.
With three minutes left on the clock, Wright required a 6.70 to progress to the inaugural Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games surfing final. Despite holding wave priority, the right wave didn’t materialise, leaving him the chance to fight for an Olympic Games bronze medal against the world’s number one ranked surfer, Brazil’s Gabriel Medina.
In the bronze medal contest, Wright took an early lead by securing a 6.50 off his very first wave. With conditions worsening, tactics and ocean craft played an even greater role, which aided Wright’s approach of strong wave selection. As the contest reached the final minutes, Medina required a 5.98 but wasn’t able to achieve it. History was made for Wright and Australian surfing.
Wright’s achievement made even more outstanding considering his journey from suffering a severe brain injury in 2015, to coming back and making history as not just one of the first Olympic surfers but as the first to wear an Olympic bronze medal.
The inaugural surfing Olympic gold medals will be battled out by host nation Japan’s Kanoa Igarashi and Brazil’s Italo Ferreira in the men’s competition and Bianca Buitendag and Carissa Moore in the women’s competition respectively.