CAPE TOWN - SOUTH African surfer Bianca Buitendag continued her astonishing performances at the Tokyo Olympics by knocking out seven-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore on Monday to reach the quarter-finals.
The 27-year-old Buitendag, who hails from Victoria Bay on the Garden Route, stunned Australian Gilmore by scoring 13.93 points from her two waves.
The 33-year-old Gilmore could only muster 10.00, with the major difference coming in the first wave, where the judges scored her only 3.83, compared to 6.17 with her second wave.
Buitendag was ahead on both fronts, scoring 7.10 and 6.83 to produce the biggest win of her career.
To put her achievement into context, Buitendag wasn’t even able to participate in the World Surf League’s championship tour this year due to Covid-19 restrictions, while Gilmore was ranked fifth, with nine heat wins.
“Being up against a seven-time world champ, you can understand my sentiment going into it. I had nothing to lose… I felt absolutely no pressure. I’m the underdog, coming in at 17th seed for this event. It’s a really comfortable spot to be in. It takes away all the nerves and pressure that could exist,” Buitendag told the Team South Africa website afterwards.
“Things just seem to be going my way… many times in the ocean, it doesn’t. So, a lot of things had to align for this victory to happen. I knew I had to be on the best waves, otherwise I stood no chance. I just made sure that was at least covered, to give myself the best chance possible.”
Buitendag will face Portugal’s Yolanda Hopkins in Tuesday’s quarter-final (2.24am SA time) at the Tsurigasaki Surfing Beach.
The 23-year-old Hopkins qualified for the Olympics with a superb performance at the World Surf Games in El Salvador earlier this month, where she set a new world record for a wave with a 9.6.
But Hopkins scored 10.84 across her two waves in beating France’s Johanne Defay in her third round contest on Monday, which is well below Buitendag’s 13.93 winning score.
Meanwhile, it was always going to be an uphill battle for Henri Schoeman in the triathlon final on Monday, and the Rio 2016 bronze medallist eventually had to pull out during the 10km run at the Odaiba Marine Park.
The 29-year-old Commonwealth Games champion has had a few knee and ankle injuries over the last three weeks that have hampered his preparation, and so it turned out that he was unable to finish on Monday, despite completing the 1.5km swim and 40km bike ride.
“For three weeks, I haven’t been able to run on the road,” Schoeman told the Team SA website before the race.
“I’ve been having treatment for my left knee and right ankle, and although both have been responding to vigorous treatment, I’ll only know if they will hold up once I’m in the race tomorrow.
“The support I’ve had from friends, triathlon enthusiasts and everyone here from Team SA has been overwhelming. It’s what has kept me going and has humbled me. To them and to everyone in South Africa – I’ll be on that start line and I will give it my best shot.”
It looked like Schoeman was on course to contend for a medal again as he was in the six-strong lead pack after the swim, and was right in front after 15km of the bike ride.
Schoeman stayed in touch until the end of the 40km bike ride, but then his injury problems began to catch up with him on the 10km run after his final transition.
He was able to keep up with the leaders after the first 2.5km lap, but in the hot and humid conditions, Schoeman started to drop off on the second lap as he placed in 34th position at the 5km mark, with a group of nine athletes pulling away.
The South African star then stopped before the end of the third lap, and it was left to a group of six to fight it out for the medals – Great Britain’s Alex Yee and Jonathan Brownlee, American Kevin McDowell, Belgium’s Marten van Riel, New Zealander Hayden Wilde and Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt.
Yee was at the front going into the final lap, followed by Blummenfelt and Wilde, with a six-second gap to fourth-placed Brownlee.
The 27-year-old Blummenfelt held his fire until about halfway through the final lap, when he took the lead and eventually sped away to grab the gold medal in a time of 1 hour, 45 minutes and 4 seconds (1:45:04), with Yee taking silver in 1:45.15 and Wilde securing the bronze in 1:45.24.