CHIBA: US’s Carissa Moore competes during the women’s Surfing gold medal final at the Tsurigasaki Surfing Beach, in Chiba, yesterday during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. – AFP

ICHINOMIYA: Hawaiian surfer Carissa Moore said she was bringing Olympic gold home to the sport’s roots after winning a historic inaugural title at the Tokyo Games yesterday. Moore beat South African Bianca Buitendag in the final to become surfing’s first women’s Olympic champion, shortly after Brazil’s Italo Ferreira won the men’s title.

The American dedicated her victory to her home island, more than a century after legendary Hawaiian Duke Kahanamoku first pushed for surfing to be included at the Games. “It means everything-surfing is Hawaii’s sport, and that’s where it started,” she said. “I hope I am a good ambassador for our sport and the aloha spirit and for our people. It gives the people of Hawaii hope that they can do anything they dream of.”

Ferreira claimed the gold medal in the men’s event despite snapping his board on the first wave in his final against Japan’s Kanoa Igarashi. Ferreira, who learned to surf standing on the foam box his father sold fish from, had to bob up and down in the ocean as a team official brought him a replacement.

But he recovered to turn in an imperious performance, dominating the contest before being carried back up the beach on his teammates’ shoulders. “I think it’s one of the best days of my life, for sure,” said Ferreira, the 2019 world champion. “For me that was a long day, and it was a dream come true. In the last couple of months I have been training a lot, just to live in this moment.”

‘Olympic sport forever’
Australia’s Owen Wright took the bronze medal, less than six years after suffering a serious head injury that left him needing to learn to walk and surf again. He beat much-fancied Brazilian Gabriel Medina for the bronze, after Igarashi had ousted the world number one in a spectacular semi-final.

But the Japanese rider could not repeat the achievement in the final, with Ferreira in unstoppable form. “I started surfing on a cooler, and then I won my first event, and after that I had a lot of passion for the sport and then I started to make history,” said Ferreira. “I’m so proud to grow up in a place where I had great people behind me. They gave me a lot of support to be here, and this is what motivates me.”

Moore went into the women’s competition as the world number one, and was helped along the way by upsets that eliminated several of her main rivals. Underdog Buitendag knocked out seven-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore and world number six Caroline Marks on her way to the final, but Moore was just too hot to handle. “I couldn’t have asked for a better end to this whole day,” said Moore. “I was happy to finally find a couple of waves and do a couple of good turns and feel like I got to surf a little bit. I’m so honored to be representing the US and wearing the gold medal and bringing it back to Hawaii.”

Japan’s Amuro Tsuzuki beat Marks to win the women’s bronze medal. The medal events-originally scheduled to take place today-were moved forward to yesterday to take advantage of favorable wave conditions. Fans were locked out of Tsurigasaki Beach, around 100 kilometers (60 miles) east of Tokyo, but the surfers were happy with their sport’s Olympic debut. “No matter what happens in the future, we’re going to be an Olympic sport forever,” said Igarashi, whose dashing good looks and run to the final whipped Japanese fans into a frenzy. “This week was historical. To be represented at an Olympics is something that every sport wants to achieve.” – AFP