‘Happy girl’ ready for a wild experience

LEMOORE, CA - SEPTEMBER 09:  Stephanie Gilmore of Australia competes during the women's final round of the World Surf League Surf Ranch Pro on September 9, 2018 in Lemoore, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
LEMOORE, CA - SEPTEMBER 09: Stephanie Gilmore of Australia competes during the women's final round of the World Surf League Surf Ranch Pro on September 9, 2018 in Lemoore, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Stephanie Gilmore talks about the Olympics, her motivations, Cathy Freeman, her parents and more… 

Stephanie Gilmore, 32, is a seven-time surfing world champion. When she talks about surfing, you could think ‘she’s seen it all’. Yet, the Australian star has a lot to say, questioning herself, sharing her stories and looking forward to the Olympic Games.

Stephanie Gilmore: "I do want to tell my story"

Winning came easy to surfing superstar Stephanie Gilmore until she was attacked by a homeless man. The seven-time WSL world champion opens up about the incident that changed everything in her life.

What still motivates her? Well, it is pretty simple, and at the same time not, as she told the Olympic Channel podcast. “Well first and foremost I love surfing. And I think you just go through different stages throughout your career where in the beginning, it's all I want to do is surf and that's all I care about and you don't really think about the other levels and the other elements of being a professional athlete and what that means. But in the last few years I've reached that moment where it's about doing something that's bigger than myself. I still want to win, but how can I use it to actually make a difference in the world.”

At that stage of her career, there is also the question of how she mixes being competitive with enjoying herself, how does she strike the right balance. “I think I can put a lot of confidence and comfort and balance in my life down to probably my parents and my family life, like my mum and dad are just the coolest. They still are so supportive.”

“They never pushed it on myself or even my sisters. It was something that we loved they could see that and they would support it. I mean we played hockey, soccer, athletics, dancing. I did everything. And by no means were we like super wealthy or anything so they sacrificed a lot of things to have my sisters and I live such an awesome life.”

Back in 2010, a very traumatic incident could have entirely changed her career, and her life. "I was attacked by a homeless guy. I think he was deranged and not in his right mind. So he hit me in the head with a crowbar or something. I had stitches in my head and a broken wrist", she explains. 

But even if it took time to get better, mentally and physically, Gilmore capitalised on it, learning about herself, her career, her life. "It was a traumatic experience, don't get me wrong. Like, I definitely have learned to kind of brush it off, but that's probably because I've dealt with it and been through it. But yes I was very jumpy for a few years. I was frustrated. I was in a rush to get back to surfing and to find it (normalcy) all again but it was, I think just the moment of letting go and letting things just kind of happen and take time to heal."

"Winning after that gave so much more value to winning things because I had to work through something. Like climb over, climb out of the mud. And I'd never experienced that before. But winning a world title a couple of years later after that I was like okay, this is the greatest win ever because I had to really persevere through something."

As usual, Gilmore moved on. And her ambitions are still very big. Representing Australia at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, when surfing makes its debut is definitely one of them. After meeting the legendary Australian Olympian, Cathy Freeman, she got inspired.

"She is an idol Australian icon. She won the gold medal in the 2000 Sydney Olympics in the 400 meters and as a young girl, I was 12 at the time and I remember watching that. I was thinking, oh I'd love to go to the Olympics and do that. To kind of have four years of just dedicating every minute of your time to training, showing up on the day and being like okay, now's your time shine. Don't crack under pressure. It must be a really wild experience." A wild experience that she will live through next year in Tokyo.

Gilmore can't wait to return to Tokyo for Olympic debut

Seven-time world champion Steph Gilmore has booked her place at Tokyo 2020 along with fellow Australian Sally Fitzgibbons. Gilmore loved her first trip to Tokyo when she competed in the ISA World Surfing Games. And no athlete will be better prepared when the sport makes its Olympic debut next July.