It's the start of the World Surf League season, with Snapper Rocks on the Gold Coast hosting the elite of the circuit to kick off a hugely anticipated year. The Roxy Pro is the first step on the road to, what Sally Fitzgibbons hopes, will be that elusive first WSL crown.
The three time world title runner-up has started the year in good form, winning the Taggart Pro in Newcastle, over old rival Steph Gilmore, and she knows how close that win is getting.
“People keep saying how do you keep coming back and being so resilient and that’s just something I pride myself on,’’ she said.
“I might be down or I might have lost that heat or you might be back in the ratings or might be leading - I know I’ve got that whole menu inside of me that I can choose from now.
“It only takes a few things to click into place, all those planets to align out there and here and I feel like the world title can just appear in your hands and almost be seamless.’’
The waves on the Gold Coast haven't always been kind to Fitzgibbons, but she hopes her form will be a springboard to victory.
“A few years back now I just came so close to the win here and Tyler (Wright) just pulled it out from underneath me,’’ she said of losing the Roxy Pro final in the dying seconds of the heat.
“Since then I’ve gained that confidence to know that my approach here is on track.
“I definitely want to start out each year just envisioning being on top of the leaderboard and ... hopefully the Roxy Pro will be mine this year.’’
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Triathlon takes centre stage this weekend, as a world class women’s field of 53 athletes from 28 countries converge onto the Sunshine Coast for the sprint race World Cup format over a 750m swim, 20km bike and five kilometre run.
It's the first opportunity of the season for Experienced campaigner Emma Moffatt to show her form with Rio looming on the horizon.
Moffatt, the bronze medallist from Beijing has used the off season to polish her skills on the bike, working with noted Gold Coast cycling coach, former Commonwealth Games and Tour rider Steve Rooney.
“Steve is so passionate and we have been able to work on a lot of different skill-based things on the bike,” said Moffatt.
“He’s a great teacher who has taught me things I never knew before in our once a week group rides and I think I’ve progressed a long way.
“It will be good to have a hit out – my first race since last November – and I’ve done a lot of training since then.”
The WNBL Final
Tumultuous doesn't quite seem to do the Women's Basketball season justice. After having a TV deal pulled out from under them, a club effectively go under midway through the year, and a fair few column inches about racism, finally the focus is on the court as the best-of-three finals season kicks off in Perth.
The home town Lynx face Townsville Fire, looking to break a 24 year title hoodoo. 1992 was the last time the title headed west, but the new relationship with the domineering men's club the Wildcat's has paid dividends, with the Lynx a major force in the WNBL.
After finishing second on the ladder, Perth crushed defending champions Townsville 91-72 in the semi-finals to earn home-court advantage for the grand final series.
But the win also came packaged with a problem - a 13-day break between games.
"It's been a bit of an uncomfortable wait," Lynx coach Andy Stewart said.
"Last Saturday, we organised an intraclub scrimmage.
"We even got spectators and referees down to try to simulate a game as well as we could.
"We normally just get one person watching at training. So the fact we had 70, 80 people cheering and clapping altered the atmosphere."
Townsville won their way through to the grand final series by beating the South East Queensland Stars 91-71 on Sunday.
The Fire will rely heavily on the league's best scorer Suzy Batkovic against Perth.
Melbourne is the venue as the National Water Polo League Final plays out, with more than just domestic bragging rights at stake.
Olympic selection also up for grabs with the Rio Games less than 150 days away and among those competing for selection, London bronze medallist Rowie Webster who will captain her Victorian Seals side in front of a home crowd for the first time.
“It’s every team´s goal to compete in the finals at the end of the national league season. To compete on home turf and in front of friends and family is a really exciting thought. I am excited for our younger players, who have never competed in the finals, to experience possibly the highest level of competition they’ve ever had,” said Webster.
Recently returning from the World League Tournament in Texas, where the Stingers took silver to world number one USA, Webster said the road to Rio is on track for Australia’s Women’s Water Polo team.
“We are building towards Rio as individuals vying for selection and as a team striving to be the best.”
“All the hard training will have been completed come the Rio Olympics, it will come down to the one percenters.”
“Rankings don’t count, past champions have no greater chance of winning gold than anyone else. I believe it purely comes down to guts, execution and team belief,” she said.
TV Coverage of the Finals
Gold medal games can be viewed on the following platforms:
– Live & Free in Melbourne & Geelong on Channel 31 (Digital 44)
– Live streamed online via www.c31.org.au/live
– Live across Australia via Foxtel’s Channel Aurora (ch 183)
Nicole Laird and Mariafe Artacho del Solar
They are the best under-23 beach volleyball side in the world, but this weekend, the prospect of claiming the sport's biggest prize, will feel a bit closer for Australia's Nicole Laird and Mariafe del Solar.
The pair are stepping out on the sands of Copacabana in the Rio Grand Slam, after easing through the qualifying to take their place in the main draw, alongside fellow Aussies, Louise Bawden and Taliqua Clancy.
And while Bawden and Clancy have all but booked their ticket to the Games, Laird and Artacho del Solar will need to win the Asian Continental Olympic qualifiers, to be held in Australia in June.
The 22-year-olds are seeking to emulate mentors Kerri Pottharst and Natalie Cook's gold medal performance at the 2000 Sydney Games.
"If your goal isn't to win a tournament then there's no real point being there," Laird told Fairfax Media.
"It doesn't mean that it's necessarily hugely likely but we've seen more crazy things happen, we've seen bigger upsets.
"We managed to stay pretty strong about it as a team, problem solve along the way, deal with all the pressure and the stress knowing there was nothing to fall back on," recalled Laird.
"It was gold or it was nothing so it was very exciting for us to know that we went into the tournament with such high expectations and we were actually able to fulfil our potential and takeaway the gold medal.
"It's actually a pretty similar approach to how we're going to have to go into the Continental Cup knowing that there is no other option."
There's an envious depth to Australia's one lap running at the moment. We highlighted Morgan Mitchell last week, and in Perth on Friday, Jessica Thornton will get another opportunity to add to her burgeoning reputation in the 400m.
The 17 year old from Sydney, who claimed gold in the 2014 Youth Olympics, had looked a good bet for a 4x400m relay spot, but a strong summer and ever improving times, have lifted the teenager into individual 400m reckoning.
Thornton starts in the under-20 400m final as the second quickest from the heats and she knows a good time is in the offing.
“I’m always looking at times, because I’m third in Australia at the moment,” Thornton said. “I was looking at a relay spot, but now with my 200m time jumping, hopefully that makes my 400m time jump as well and the individual spot is very close.
“Fingers crossed, we’ll see what happens in the next few weeks. It’s amazing. It’s still a shock to me.
“I’m only 17 so I would never have thought that I’d be potentially running at the Rio Olympics as an individual.”
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