Australia’s surfing team will rely on smarts as much as skills as they attempt to land an inaugural surfing gold medal at this year’s Tokyo Olympics.
The team of Stephanie Gilmore and Sally Fitzgibbons as well as Owen Wright and Julian Wilson secured their places through world rankings in December, although they have to wait until May to fully satisfy the selection criteria.
Surfing Australia elite program manager, former pro surfer Bede Durbridge, said planning and preparation started two years ago.
They have already surfed the Olympic break and stayed in the accommodation that will be used for athletes.
“We kicked off in January 2018 with our first Olympic-readiness camp. We’ve had two of those and will have another one with the four athletes this month,” Durbridge said.
The former Pipeline Masters champion said the format for the Olympic competition was quite different from the regular World Surf League events.
“There are four person heats in the first round and if you don’t get first or second you go into the second round which is a five-person heat, which probably no-one has ever surfed before.
“It’s going to be quite unique so we’re going to do some training around that as the strategy side of things will be critical.
“I feel like we’re doing a good job with the preparation and that can be our edge.”
The Australians will continue to use a new $30m wavepool in Melbourne, which can replicate the conditions expected at Tsurigasaki beach, about 60km outside of Tokyo in Chiba.
He said they would use the facility to continue to work on their aerial skills; necessary to topple the world’s top two ranked men, Brazilians Italo Ferreira and Gabriel Medina.
“We’ll spend a lot of time at the wavepool and do a lot of training around the aerial side of things because unless there’s a typhoon, it will be small,” Durbridge said.
“You have to prepare for everything but we will be preparing more for the mindset that it’s going to be a small and shifty little beach break.”
While seven-time world champion Gilmore finished fourth and Fitzgibbon fifth, Australia’s men had their leanest ever year on tour with Wright the highest ranked at nine and Wilson at 11.
Not since 1995, when Matt Hoy finished equal sixth, has an Australian man not featured in the top five at season’s end.
Durbridge said that didn’t mean the men weren’t a medal chance in the 20-surfer field.
“It’s definitely going to be tough but they will be up for it,” he said.
“They’ve both won big events and beaten all the other surfers in there so it will come back on the preparation we’ve put in so that will hopefully come to the forefront.”