Losing in the Semifinals here at the Cascais Women's Pro was certainly not what Sally Fitzgibbons had in mind when she woke up this morning. Instead, the current World No. 1 likely expected to surf all the way to the top of the winner's podium in Portugal. She had planned, probably, to not just gain ground on her closest competitors in the World Title race, but to leave them in the Iberian dust.
After all, this is a woman who has been runner-up to the World Title a whopping three times already, and is so close now -- just two events away -- that she can practically feel the cool touch of silver in her palms. She arrived in Cascais with the lead, but a slim one at that: Fitzgibbons was ahead of Courtney Conlogue, World No. 2, by just a few hundred points. And Conlogue led then-World No. 3, Tyler Wright, by just another 100 points or so.
So when both Wright and Conlogue were eliminated -- along with World No. 4 Stephanie Gilmore -- it seemed like divine intervention. Fitzgibbons, who was still in the contest, had a shot at practically running away with the lead before the next event even began. But whether it was pressure, bad luck, an on-fire opponent or a mix of all three, when she lost her Semifinal Wednesday to Nikki Van Dijk, it was a tough pill to swallow.
Still clad in her wetsuit and yellow jersey, Fitzgibbons was characteristically poised, if not palpably disappointed, after the loss. "That was a really challenging heat," she said. "They're the pressure moments that you work so hard for as an athlete. But when you can't hear the scores and what's happening, you go off your instinct.
"I thought I had done enough to win that heat, but if you get the explanation from the judges, you can learn and keep evolving. And I can come out in France and do the bigger surfing that [the judges] reward."
Even with her defeat in the Semis, however, Fitzgibbons left the pack of would-be Champions a little further behind her. Following Cascais, she now has 51,600 points, followed by Conlogue, with 48,100 and Wright, with 46,450. Perhaps most frustrating for Fitzgibbons is that the Title is still up for grabs. But, with nearly eight seasons behind her and undying ambition fueling every step, the Title is also still well within reach.
"It's always tough because you're digging your own surfing, and obviously coming out without just reward in that one, it's going to hurt," Fitzgibbons said. "The pain's there, but I'll take that information into France and go even better."
The Roxy Pro France waiting period opens this Saturday, October 7.