For the next generation of daredevil females the Paris Games is about chasing fun and fortune, reports Correspondent at Large Louise Evans.
Australia’s brave young Olympic surfing and skateboard newcomers are looking forward to carrying the country on their backs when they fight for gold and glory in the French capital next year.
For both 20-year-old surfing sensation Molly Picklum from Terrigal on the NSW central coast and 13-year-old Tweeds Heads skateboarder Chloe Covell, stepping into an Australian team uniform means stepping up the danger and excitement.
They seem unfazed by any pressure to qualify and talk instead about the guts and determination needed to compete and the opportunity to showcase their superhero skills on the world’s biggest sporting stage.
Picklum, who is competing in only her second season on the world championship tour, has shaken up the surfing hierarchy by locking-in a top-five ranking and a maiden berth at the world title showdown in California in September.
After that she plans to ride the waves to the 2024 Olympics where she’s committed to bringing “raw and gritty” to the Games.
“The Olympics and surfing is an interesting dynamic and it’s inspiring to be a part of it,” Picklum said.
“I will feel really proud and honoured to put on the green and gold. It’ll really add fuel to my fire to get gold, not just for myself but for my fellow athletes and for the whole country.
“It’ll feel like wearing the whole nation, which is exciting and I feel like you need that pressure and support to throw yourself over the waves.”
Surfing at the Paris Olympics will be held almost 16,000km from the French capital in Teahupo’o, Tahiti – a dislocation which Picklum says could be both a plus and a minus.
“It’s fortunate and unfortunate. Unfortunately I really enjoy interacting and getting inspired by athletes from all different fields,” she said.
“But it’s a blessing because that could be a distraction for me. In Tahiti it’s game-on. If I can throw myself over some scary waves to get some big scores and bring home gold for our country – that would be really cool.”
Olympic selection for surfing goes to the top two Australian females on the World Surf League world rankings and currently Australia’s eight-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore is outside the mix.
Gilmore is trailing in third behind her Australian surfing sisters Tyler Wright No.2 and Picklum No.4.
“If Steph makes it, it’s hats off to her because it’s going to take a lot for her to get that result to clinch that spot,” Picklam said.
“Last year when I was brand new it was inspiring competing against the other girls. Steph really brings out the absolute best in me and I really get fired up. She’s the greatest of all time and is the queen of surfing and she will keep that title for life. For me to make my mark while she’s still there is really important to me.”
Teenage skateboarder Chloe Covell is another next generation athlete who’s seamlessly making her mark on the world stage by becoming the youngest women’s street gold medallist in X Games history and youngest athlete to win two X Games medals before the age of 13.
Covell was still in primary school when she watched skateboarding debut at the 2022 Tokyo Olympics. Now she’s in line to be the youngest member of the Australian team in Paris thanks to an arsenal of tricks few other skateboarders of any age can execute.
“It blows my mind that I have done all this stuff but I am really proud of myself to have achieved so much at my age – so it’s cool,” she said.
While the looming Paris Olympics are a “little bit scary” for the tiny titan, Covell said she now knows most of the girls she’ll be competing against in Paris “so we can all just hang out together and have fun”.
For a kid who flies through the air doing flips and switches with the greatest of ease, flying around the world is almost mundane. “I have traveled to Brazil, to Italy twice and to the USA three times. I don’t get too jet-lagged because I am small. I can lay down in the seat on the plane and sleep.
“Dad (former Wests Tigers and Cronulla NRL player Luke) is my coach so he usually travels with me. He helps me with tricks and tells me what to work on. He knows more about skating than Mum.”
The only bummer is having to do school work in between training and competing. But that’s ok too because “my teachers are super supportive, they give me some homework to do on my laptop. “Mum (Julie) makes sure I do it.”
Louise Evans is an award-winning journalist who has worked around Australia and the world as a reporter, foreign correspondent, editor and media executive for media platforms including The Sydney Morning Herald (eight years), The Australian (11 years) and Australian Associated Press (six years in London, Beijing and Sydney).
A women sports’ pioneer, Louise was the first female sports journalist employed by The Sydney Morning Herald and the first female sports editor at The Australian. Louise went on to work at six Olympic Games, six Commonwealth Games and numerous world sporting championships and grand slam tennis events.
Louise is the Founding Editor of AAP FactCheck, the Creator of #WISPAA – Women in Sport Photo Action Awards and national touring Exhibition and the author and producer of the Passage to Pusan book, documentary and exhibition.
In 2019 she was awarded the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) Queen’s Honour for services to the media and sport and named an Australian Financial Review Top 100 Woman of Influence for services to the arts, culture and sport.
In 2020 she won a NSW Volunteer of the Year Award plus the NSW Government Community Service Award for her women-in-sport advocacy work.