MONACO – Cathy Freeman's memorable run to Olympic gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics is a moment her compatriot Stephanie Gilmore wants to emulate in Tokyo next year, she has told AFP.
The 31-year-old will bid to become the first women's Olympic surfing champion, and with seven world titles to her name, the odds are in her favour.
Gilmore, who began surfing aged 10 and first competed on the world circuit seven years later, says Freeman storming down the straight in Sydney to secure 400 metres gold was etched in the memory of the then-13-year-old.
“Watching her (Freeman) win blew my mind,” Gilmore told AFP at the Laureus Awards. “I was so inspired thinking she was a super hero, the suit she had on with the hood and everything.
“Imagine the pressure of the entire world, not just Australia, on her shoulders. She did it so cool, calm and collected, incredible. So when I heard surfing was in the Olympics, I said to myself, 'Great I want to try and have a moment like that'.”
Gilmore, though, is not already placing herself on the top step of the podium, as despite her multiple world crowns, she knows from watching other champions fall short that the Olympics are an entirely different challenge.
“It is funny. It seems so easy to win a couple of world titles because you have the year and you can make a couple of mistakes during the series but still win the championship as long as you are pretty consistent,” she said.
“Olympics is like one chance, a 30-minute heat. Who knows what (the) waves will be like. The pressure will be incredible with no mistakes allowed, and (you have to) go out there and put together the best performance of the entire last four years of your life.
“There are swimmers who break world records in other competitions, but they get to the Olympics and when they get there they crumble and you ask what went wrong there.”
'A humbling experience'
Gilmore, who claimed the first of her world titles in her rookie year in 2007, says despite surfers being seen as rebels and free spirits, they can embrace the Olympics.
“Surfers and skaters (skateboarders) keep some kind of street credibility, some coolness about them, because they are sub-cultures. They are rebels and do not want to follow path of corporate sports,” said Gilmore.
“There are a lot of top pros I have spoken to who love (the) idea of it (the Olympics). They are athletes, so to compete on (the) world's biggest platform, not only is a great marketing tool for our sport, but just a wonderful experience.
“It can really enhance WSL (World Surfing League) events. Maybe we will bring a whole new audience and they will fall in love with it.”
But Gilmore says that her relationship with the sea will not be altered just because surfing has gained acceptance amongst the grey suits of the International Olympic Committee.
“I think that surfing is always a spiritual experience. It is funny when you are competing you tap into that spirituality to find a clarity to what you are doing,” she said.
“It is easy to be overwhelmed by the commentators and the sound (of) the judges and your opponents, but I find as a surfer it (the ocean) is a sacred place you can go to.
“That sacred place is remembering this is what you love, being in the ocean it is such a free feeling.
“You are being paid to surf, it is crazy.”
Laureus is a global movement that aims to use the power of sport to tackle social challenges in the world.
Agence France-Presse (AFP)