A new rule introduced for this year’s World Surf League has proved as brutal as expected, with several big-name Australians falling victim to the mid-season cut during competition at the Margaret River Pro.
Emotions have run high in Western Australia this week as Sally Fitzgibbons, Owen Wright and Morgan Cibilic all lost their Championship Tour status due to the rule change, which has delivered on Tour organizers’ promises to provide more drama and increased pressure.
Tokyo Olympian Fitzgibbons dropped off the main tour for the first time in 14 years and 108 consecutive events after failing to progress beyond the round of 16, while Cibilic, who finished fifth in the world last year, was also demoted to the second-tier Challenger Series.
Fitzgibbons was visibly upset after falling to Frenchwoman Johanne Defay, who was also in tears as she consoled the Australian.
“Everything about this sport, the surf community and my dream keeps me coming back for more,” Fitzgibbons wrote on social media afterward. “I felt every one of those cheers and hugs from you yesterday and hope I can reciprocate when we cross paths in your big moment.”
The fate of Wright, the Olympic bronze medalist, was finally sealed yesterday, when Matthew McGillivray beat Miguel Pupo in their round-of-16 matchup. A day earlier, the prospect of dropping off the tour for the first time in 12 years had left a devastated Wright apparently considering his future in the sport.
“I know I’m surfing really well, but I’ve got a lot of life outside of the tour — kids and wife and what not,” Wright said. “Whatever I do will be a family decision. We’ll kind of go through the motions of what’s next. There’s a lot more questions to be had. We’ll see what happens.”
The World Surf League introduced the mid-season cut for this year’s tour to reduce the men’s and women’s fields from 36 and 18 to 24 and 12 respectively at the season’s midpoint.
In announcing the plan last year, tour organizers said the move would allow events to run within the most optimal swell cycles at locations such as Indonesia’s Plengkung Beach, and Jeffreys Bay in South Africa, “as well as ensure that the stars of the sport meet head-to-head more frequently.”
Kolohe Andino was one of the lucky ones who made it through, but the American said that the rule is proving unpopular with the athletes.
“It’s just kind of hard the whole cut thing. No one really likes it,” Andino told the World Surf League broadcast. “It just seems like it’s a TV show a little bit, like drama all the time.”
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