'That's wild to think about': Sally Fitzgibbons' Olympic Games dream

Riding high: Sally Fitzgibbons. Photo: WSL
Riding high: Sally Fitzgibbons. Photo: WSL

Sally Fitzgibbons tries to get to a place where she can detach.

A place where she can take a moment to breathe, a moment to reflect on a wild World Surf League campaign, and a moment to let the butterflies kick in.

For the surfing star now finds herself little more than seven months away from realising a dream born in the nosebleed section of Sydney Olympic Park 19 years ago.

Fitzgibbons will add another chapter to her legacy when she arrives in Tokyo for surfing's debut at the Olympic Games.

It is a pivotal moment for the sport, and a pivotal moment for a woman whose Olympic torch was lit on one of Australian sport's greatest nights.

"I went to the big Cathy Freeman night, so I was just rocking and rolling, thinking it was the best thing since sliced bread," Fitzgibbons said.

"I was in the highest row possible, nosebleeds, I walked all the way up and I could touch the roof of the stadium. The whole thing was shaking, and I was like 'man I want to get a spacesuit'.

"It was pretty crazy on the night, I was a bit of a super sports fan and I had my lucky hat, and I was like 'mum and dad, can you take me down and get Cathy to sign my hat?' As if out of 100,000 people, she was going to find me.

"Mum and dad were like 'she's pretty busy'. On the way home on the train home I was just bawling.

"All these years later, when we had our first Aussie camp, she came to talk and tell us about her experience, so I got her to sign my hat and I just lost it. It was a pretty special moment."

For some time it seemed as though Fitzgibbons would follow in Freeman's footsteps and run for Australia on the world stage.

The hunger was there - so often she would finish training and ask her coach to let her run just one more lap. The ability? That was there too - Fitzgibbons won the 800 and 1500m events at the Youth Olympics in Sydney in 2007.

But soon after her worlds collided and Fitzgibbons had a decision to make. It was either the world youth athletics championships or a surfing event. So here she is this week at the Maui Pro, looking to climb up the world rankings from No. 4 in a sport which often leaves Fitzgibbons feeling like "you're playing Playstation against yourself".

For every year she is returning to these events, be it the likes of Maui or Bells - which to Fitzgibbons is her "Wimbledon" - and the Gerroa product is finding ways to improve.

For someone so desperate to better herself every day, the lure of the ocean suggests Fitzgibbons made the right choice all those years ago.

But the Olympic flame still burns.

"To win a world title, it's pretty monumental and it gives you that best in the world type feel," Fitzgibbons said.

"So when I went down that track and that was the desired outcome of our sport, you're pretty occupied.

"You watch all of these other sports as the Olympics come and go, and you sit there and go 'wow, this is crazy'."

But next time the Olympics roll around Fitzgibbons won't be watching. Instead she will be riding waves on Shidashita Beach.

Fitzgibbons and seven-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore will fly the flag for Australia in surfing's first appearance at the Olympics.

The tone of excitement in her voice suggests it is yet to truly sink in.

"To think we'll be walking into an opening ceremony, myself, Steph and the Aussie team, for surfing and to represent our sport, it's wild.

"It's tricky trying to shift some things so it works with the WSL, but I think they all know it's a pretty pivotal moment for the sport to move it forward.

"That's wild to think about. When you actually think it's next year and you've locked in a spot, it's going to be a really cool milestone to be a part of.

"The first ever surfing competition in an Olympic Games. To look back on that will be pretty special."