Gilmore mentally prepares on the road to Tsurigasaki Beach

As Stephanie Gilmore travelled along the long, flat road towards Tsurigasaki Beach, the seven-time world surfing champion began to programme her mind by visualising that she was en-route to compete at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.

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Visualisation has been called the athlete’s secret weapon and is a psychological tool where they create a mental image of an event or intended outcome.

The Australian had spent time in Tokyo before heading out to the beach in Ichinomiya, Chiba, where the inaugural Olympic surfing competition will be held between 26 July and 2 August 2020.

While she had enjoyed being a tourist in the Japanese capital, taking in the shops, food and light displays, the 31-year-old switched to elite athlete mode, mentally rehearsing as she moved closer to the Olympic venue.

She told the Olympic Channel: “It was really nice to be driving along the road and heading towards the location where the Olympics will be for surfing. I went through that process. I was really trying to imagine it. I was like ‘okay, this is it. You’re driving. The Olympics starts in two days’ time. You’re with the team’.”

“I really set it all up in my head and visualised the whole experience and, you know, I felt nervous. I felt all of these things; I was like ‘woah, this is kind of crazy’. I can’t imagine that it’s all going to happen.”

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She added: “But that’s part of being an athlete, I think, really putting yourself in that situation before you get there so when you do get there you’re comfortable with it.”

Riding the waves to Olympic qualification

Gilmore has been at the top of her sport since 2007, when she became the first surfer – male or female – to win the world title in their first – or rookie – year.

Since then she has gone on to win six further titles, most recently in 2018, to go level with her fellow New South Wales native Layne Beachley as the most successful female surfer in history.

However, Gilmore has yet to qualify for Tokyo and must be one of the top two Australians on the World Surf League tour to ensure she will be in Japan come July next year.

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Gilmore and Sally Fitzgibbons are currently jostling for position towards the top of the rankings, and the former knows what is required over the coming events before the tour ends in December.

“Basically, I just need to stay performing, fit and healthy until the end of this year so I can secure a spot,” she said.

“Sally Fitzgibbons and I are looking pretty strong at the moment so we’ll see how we go. But obviously I just want to win the WSL world title. Just win the world title and then that’s kind of like signed, sealed, delivered.”