Gilmore graciously accepted her runner-up position, saying, "I came across a brick wall: Sally."
The final, which came down to the buzzer, was an apt conclusion to a full day of super close and suspenseful competition.
Fitzgibbons hurdled a couple of walls on her way to the final--they came in the forms of a very capable Lakey Peterson and Carissa Moore, who struggled slightly with the bumpy conditions.
Moore advanced to the semifinals after a titillating last-minute win over her quarters opponent, Coco Ho. Ho needed a score of 6.30 to capture the lead and with just seconds to go, she got a wave that looked as if it might have been enough. After agonizing deliberation, the judges awarded her a 6.0, which meant that Moore's margin of victory was only three tenths of a point.
Tyler Wright took full advantage of the priority system in an attempt to hold Gilmore off during the first semifinal, dropping in on a solid mid-range wave. Gilmore earned a 9.77 on what must have been a 10-foot face, completing three giant, arcing turns. At the 9-minute marker, Wright put the pressure on Gilmore with an 8.10 ride, but Gilmore pulled a big floater and a backside bounce off the pocket with less than 30 seconds remaining.
The last two years' event winners shared a ski ride out for the final and ACDC's "Hells Bells" started playing, but the ocean didn't hear its cue. Halfway through the heat, Fitzgibbons was in the lead--with a whopping 5.56 total. Gilmore was the first to break the 4.0 barrier--with little more than five minute on the clock, when the lull finally gave way to a battery of sets. Fitzgibbons soon reclaimed first position, but Gilmore only needed a 4.27 to displace her--nothing close to an impossible feat for the four-time world champ. As time ran out, Gilmore took off on one last wave and everyone at Bells held their breath while the score was decided. A 3.63 for Gilmore meant Sally Fitzgibbons had claimed another World Tour victory and another bell.
"She gave me a heart attack," Fitzgibbons said of Gilmore in the last moments of the final. "I was thinking, 'Oh, crap. Here we go again.' It's so tough when you only need a small score, and that wave came in and it didn't look like it had much substance to it, I thought, 'There might be a set behind this.' And you only have a click of the fingers to think about it and she got it, and it just fell short. I'm on top of the world."
"To see my name go up twice on that trophy," she continued, "is so, so unbelievable. So many of my heroes are up on that trophy and they talk about people with a number of Bells. This place just holds a really special place in my heart and I love coming back here. I love everything about it."
"For the expression session before the final, it seemed like there were lots of waves, and I sort of went out there thinking I was going to be way more productive than I was," Gilmore said. "I struggled to find anything that was high-scoring and coming off such good heat wins earlier, it was really hard to find that rhythm again. Yeah, I just couldn't get Sally in the end, but it was good fun."
As one of the commentators pointed out, it's taken Kelly 20 years to win four bells. Steph Gilmore has received three in her six years and now, after just four years, Fitzgibbons has two big, shiny bells.
"I think the emotion just pours out of you because it is so hard to win a bell," Fitzgibbons said. "The talent on Tour--they're surfing so good and you don't know when that next opportunity's going to come, so coming into that final, I wanted to chase that feeling of winning and I wasn't going to stop until I got that bell."
The next stop on the 2012 ASP Women's World Tour is the Dow Agrosciences Pro (part of the TSB Bank NZ Surf Festival). The Taranaki, New Zealand comp is set to begin April 11th.
RIP CURL WOMEN'S PRO BELLS BEACH FINAL RESULTS:
1. Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) 10.76
2. Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) 10.33
RIP CURL WOMEN'S PRO BELLS BEACH SEMIFINAL RESULTS:
SF 1: Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) 17.10 def. Tyler Wright (AUS) 14.77
SF 2: Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) 15.27 def. Carissa Moore (HAW) 11.50
RIP CURL WOMEN'S PRO BELLS BEACH QUARTERFINAL RESULTS:
QF 1: Tyler Wright (AUS) 16.63 def. Sarah Mason (NZL) 15.93
QF 2: Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) 17.80 def. Malia Manuel (HAW) 14.83
QF 3: Carissa Moore (HAW) 10.33 def. Coco Ho (HAW) 10.03
QF 4: Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) 14.43 def. Lakey Peterson (USA) 11.76
ASP WOMEN'S WORLD TOP 3
(After Rip Curl Women's Pro Bells Beach)
1. Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) 18,000 pts
2. Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) 16,500 pts
3. Tyler Wright (AUS) 13,000 pts