It was a bitter-sweet victory for seven-time World Champion Steph Gilmore who took out the Maui Pro in Hawaii yesterday.
Gilmore emerged the victor ahead of young mentee and fellow Aussie Tyler Wright, surfing in her first competition since a debilitating illness.
With both Aussies making it to the finals of the Maui Pro in Hawaii, it was Gilmore who came out on top, scoring 14.16 to Wright's 9.67.
Gilmore has now extended her record to 31 Championship Tour wins across her career, with her sights set on an eighth World Championship title next season, but Tokyo 2020 gold is the bigger goal when surfing makes its Olympic debut in July.
Gilmore ends this year ranked number four in the world but is still considered the most successful surfer of all time, provisionally qualified for Tokyo alongside Sally Fitzgibbons.
In May 2020, Surfing Australia will consider athletes that have satisfied the Tokyo 2020 Nomination Criteria and will submit to the Australian Olympic Committee for selection.
How amazing is the Aussie spirit... so many success, progression and learning experiences in Hawaii this week💪🏽 Congratulations to these two inspiring female Aust athletes for putting on a show in the @wsl #lululemonmauipro We’re so proud of you both. Well done to all our female WCT surfers for what’s been an incredible 2019 @wsl WCT year and for all the efforts of the coaches, performance support crew, brand partners, clubs/ states, family & friends and our HP Program Staff who support you. Amazing year @rissmoore10 winning a 4th World Title and setting a real benchmark for the sport. Bring on 2020 🇦🇺🏆 📸 @edsloanephoto #worldsbestsurfersandpeople
Both women have secured an individual WCT event win in 2019 and have been consistent performers throughout the year, which now guarantees they finish inside the Top 8 on the WSL CT Rankings, therefore, earning provisional places to compete in Tokyo.
Tyler Wright's impressive return to the water followed 17 months of complications from Influenza A which led to post-viral syndrome and chronic fatigue syndrome which not only effected Wright physically but mentally.
"It messed up my brain and body," Wright told World Surf League in the lead up to the Maui Pro, with the neurological side effects leading to her being unable to get out of bed for 14 months.
It’s been 6 months since I last gave a health update. I’m really filled with anxiety to let you know that I’ll be making my first competitive appearance since Bali 2018. The @wsl #lululemonmauipro is the next step in my recovery and I’m confident in the work, and that I’ve taken every small step possible before I’ve come to this point. Maui is a very calculated and precise step in my recovery process. Explaining 17 months of complex medical issues is not something I’m going to attempt on this platform. Simplistically I got a virus that had a crack, it messed up my brain and body function. I spent 14 months in a lot of agonising pain and no real cognitive ability to understand what was going on. I was on 24hr physical and emotional care for close to 14 months. The last 17 months have been rough and I’ve spent most of it terrified and overwhelmed. I’m still very much in the healing process from it emotionally. With that said I am excited to be heading to Maui and to be at this stage of recovery. I get to see my friends and put a jersey on and hopefully see if the little competitor within is just waiting to come out to play. Alex and only a few others have seen the extent of my illness and the state in which I was in and the work I’ve done to be where I am today. I would like to thank them for there unwavering support and love. A huge thank you to the great humans that have helped me out of this mess. It feels nice to be in the water and catching waves and enjoying life. Xoxox 🎥 @fetchfilms @thefordhamcompany
Other side effects of post-viral syndrome are confusion, difficulty concentrating, weakness, sensitivity to light and noise along with aches and pains, all of which Wright experienced, leaving her in tears.
The 25-year-old said she was unable to even hold a conversation, so to come back and take out second place behind her friend and compatriot, was a great feat.
Post-competition, Wright spoke of her excitement for her teammates, Tokyo 2020 and thanked her partner for her support.
“To see the girls qualify for the Olympics, it’s a huge moment for our sport,’’ Wright said.
“I feel very lucky and grateful to be here today, it was only a couple of months ago that I was still in a rough place and I would love to thank the people who got me here today and a lot of that is my girlfriend Alex.
“She’s been there the entire time for me. She saw it all. She saw the worst of the worst and to be here today, to be surfing and to be happy and healthy, I’m so enjoying this moment."
Wright also spoke about how seeing Gilmore in the water, was a calming reminder that she was among great company as she made her comeback.
“It’s pretty easy for me to get overwhelmed," she said.
“When I got in the water and I saw Steph relaxing out there, I thought; ‘Oh, this is my friend.'
"I love Steph, we’ve had so many heats together and I couldn’t think of a better way to end, or even start, this recovery process.
“To share a moment like that, in the last heat of the year, was a really special moment for me.
“I’m very proud of her (Gilmore), she did very well, but I definitely wanted to beat her.’’
Gilmore was equally proud of her friend and competitor.
“I couldn’t have thought of a better person to share the final with,’’ the 31-year-old said.
“We’ve missed her a lot, but she’s surfing better than ever.
"I can't wait to see her next year, I'm sure she'll be as dangerous as ever."