STEPHANIE Gilmore is one world title away from matching the record of mentor Layne Beachley after claiming her sixth championship in Hawaii on Friday.
The 26-year-old, preparing herself for a surf-off with fellow Australian Tyler Wright for this year’s title after bombing out of the quarter-finals at the season-ending Maui Pro, launched into celebrations after Wright was beaten in the event final.
The 20-year-old from Lennox Head had to settle for a runner-up finish in the world standings for a second consecutive year after being undone by local favourite Carissa Moore in the final.
That result was enough for Gilmore to claim the crown and move within touching distance of Beachley’s record of seven women’s titles.
‘‘That seems like such a large number of world titles, and Layne won five in a row, which was so incredible and something I didn’t do,’’ Gilmore said. ‘‘It’s definitely not something I set out to do, but of course winning six now it’s a lot closer than I expected.’’
Gilmore’s joy was in stark contrast to earlier in the day when she angrily slapped the water after falling to American Courtney Conlogue in the quarter-finals.
That result opened the door for Wright and another Australian, Sally Fitzgibbons, to push for the title.
Fitzgibbons, a three-time championship runner-up, immediately lost that chance when she fell to South Africa’s Bianca Buitendag in the following quarter-final.
The 23-year-old slumped to her board after the loss and appeared to weep but later spoke of her desire to bounce back from another championship disappointment.
‘‘It’s still a dream and I’m going to go after it,’’ she said.
Gilmore says this year’s three-way all-Australian race for the title had made it the toughest of her six wins and she expects an even tougher defence in 2015 with two-time world champion Moore and rising stars such as Buitendag and Conlogue providing opposition.
‘‘Every single heat you’re surfing now, it’s not an easy heat,’’ she said. ‘‘It’s not just the girls at the top, there’s so many girls that you meet in the early rounds that can be spoilers of a great result.
‘‘It’s pretty much like that the whole year long and all my other years I’d only ever been in a world title race with one other girl to the finish.
‘‘To come down to the last event and still have three girls still in the race was something new to me and something I was unsure of how to handle those emotions.’’
Wright, who appeared destined to force the surf-off after disposing of American Lakey Peterson and then Fitzgibbons’ conqueror Buitendag earlier in the day, just ran out of puff against the inspired Moore, who became the first Hawaiian to win a women’s tour event in Maui.
‘‘What an experience, just the whole day in general,’’ Wright said. ‘‘Congrats to Steph; she had an amazing year and deserves it.’’
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