Stephanie Gilmore's grip on the Jeep Leader Jersey was loosened Saturday by upstart Nikki Van Dijk, who finished off the 6x World Champ in their Quarterfinal match in commanding fashion.
Van Dijk comboed Gilmore -- in which she needed two new scores to catch up -- leaving no doubt this time that she deserved the win. Earlier in the day she'd taken Gilmore the distance in their non-elimination Round Three match, which was a barn burner. Steph got the edge in that one, 17.33 to 16.50, advancing directly to the Quarterfinals. Van Dijk, meanwhile, had to face Courtney Conlogue in Round Four.
Van Dijk's been on point this week. Where others are getting tripped up by backwash and bounce, she's flying over fat sections, linking turns with grace, and timing the tricky closeout hits with precision. While her Round Four match with Courtney was slower moving, she earned a solid upset win over the powerhouse Californian.
That set up her rematch with Steph, and this time she wasn't backing down. "I'm so excited to make the Semis. I feel like sometimes I get in a Quarterfinal rhythm, and as great as that is…I kind of what to -- Semis and upwards, y'know."
By the time Gilmore was out, so too were No. 4-ranked Conlogue and No. 5-ranked Lakey Peterson, opening the door for No. 3 Tyler Wright and No. 2 Sally Fitzgibbons to gain some serious ground on the Jeep Leaderboard.
Wright had the heat right after Gilmore's, and clicked into beast mode against Sage Erickson. While Erickson has shown plenty of improvement lately, Wright finally looked like her 2016 self in their Quarterfinal match. She unleashed her power game, nailing a 9.87 and an 8.10 to win the heat with a 17.97 total. She now heads blazing into the Semifinals knowing that if she wins in Rio, she'll be tied with Gilmore for World No. 1.
After Wright got her work done, Fitzgibbons entered the water looking to hold serve against Keely Andrew. Fitzgibbons looked lethal during her Round Three over Lakey Peterson and Laura Enever. Her speed and flow are intact. And while things were a bit more challenging in the maxing out tide, Fitzgibbons ground her way to a solid win with a pair of mid-range 7s.
Fitzgibbons and Wright will clash in the Semifinals when competition resumes, and the winner will gain real ground on Gilmore. If Sally wins, she'll be immediately tied with Gilmore, with a chance to win. But regardless of what happens on Finals day, the women's race just got a lot more interesting.