22/04/2024

Owen Wright's bronze medal in the men's surfing capped off a remarkable comeback. Image: AUS Olympic Team/Twitter

Owen Wright has become Australia’s – and the world’s – first Olympic surfing medallist, taking home bronze in the men’s surfing event on Tuesday afternoon. For all your Tokyo 2020 coverage, stay tuned to The Inner Sanctum’s Olympic hub and the Olympics Central.

Wright defeated Brazilian Gabriel Medina in the Bronze medal match with a score of 11.97, Medina falling just behind the Aussie with a score of 11.77. 

The achievement of becoming the first Australian to win a surfing medal aside, there’s another element to Wright’s win that is remarkable in itself.

His Bronze medal win puts an emphatic exclamation point on a comeback so remarkable that it’s even a miracle he was even able to return to the water at all. 

During the 2015 World Surf League Championship Tour, Wright was ranked fifth and preparing to make a full tilt at the title.

But in training between events, Wright felt the full force of a 15-foot wave, on his head, which he recalled in an interview with BBC Sport earlier this year “shook me so hard that then I just kind of lost my senses”

After a number of smaller concussions throughout his career, this blow proved to be near-fatal, leaving Wright with what was officially diagnosed as a traumatic brain injury.

From there, Wright sat out the entire 2016 season, as he had to learn first to walk, and then surf again, but his passion never waned. 

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In his interview with BBC Sport, the 31-year-old said that while in recovery he was always “trying to surf the whole time”, despite that he didn’t have the physical capacity to do so. 

“I could barely walk the length of the house, but I was still trying to go for a surf,” Wright told BBC Sport.

“I couldn’t get to my feet so it was a very mixed bag of emotions.

“I just didn’t know how to stand up.”

This in itself makes it an incredible feat that Wright was able to surf again at all – given he had to re-learn to walk – much less returning to competitive surfing a mere 15 months after the incident. 

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Wright returned to competition in March 2017, claiming the Quiksilver Pro Title on the Gold Coast. And he’s hardly looked back, finishing sixth in the competition that year and sixth again in 2018, before back-to-back ninth-placed finishes in 2019 and 2020. 

Qualification for Tokyo is an incredible feat in itself, even more so given the circumstances he’s overcome, and Wright following his bronze medal win said that Tokyo 2020 was the “beacon of light” spurring him on to continue.

“I was going through some tough times, I had some long-lasting symptoms, I was questioning whether or not I was going to be doing the sport again,” Wright said in an interview with Channel 7.

“The Olympics were announced and with that attention came some extra funding and I got to the doctors I needed to get to.

“I ended up striving and striving…  and now to get that medal is just unbelievable.”

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Wright said he’s proud to have been representing his country and his family, but made special mention also of others who are or have been in similar circumstances.

“All the TBI [traumatic brain injury] survivors out there, all the people who’ve had really bad brain injuries, I just want to let you know that it’s all possible,” he said to Channel 7.

“Don’t give up, keep striving to get back there.

“Coming on board into [Olympic] surfing spurred me on to really get back to my best. Getting that medal [has] really just sealed that for me, and I’ll do it for the TBI guys too.”

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