SURF life saving’s original golden girl Karla Gilbert believes star Courtney Hancock can be the greatest Ironwoman ever.
Gilbert dominated surf sports through the 1990s in a glittering career and was Hancock’s idol growing up, but the admiration runs both ways.
Speaking ahead of this weekend’s iconic Coolangatta Gold torture test — of which Hancock is defending champion — Gilbert said the Northcliffe glamour girl had the potential to be the best of all-time.
“I don’t see why she can’t,” she said.
“She is still only young and she has plenty of time ahead of her.”
Gilbert won the Australian Ironwoman series a record seven times, claimed three national Ironwoman titles at the Australian championships and a swag of state and world titles.
Hancock’s trophy cabinet is bare by comparison, but Gilbert said the 24-year-old was destined for greatness.
“I remember when she first arrived on the Gold Coast a few years ago, my old coach Pat O’Keeffe told me there was this new girl in town who reminded him a lot of me when I was younger,” she said.
“She’s always been very determined and you just knew that she could be great one day.”
Hancock was flattered with the comparison, but said she had a long way to go before she could be mentioned in the same company as Gilbert.
“She is the best there has ever been and probably ever will be so I think every girl in lifesaving looks up to her,” she said.
This time last year Hancock held lifesaving’s ‘triple crown’, with the Gold, the Kellogg’s ironwoman series and the Australian title under her belt.
She lost the series crown to clubmate Liz Pluimers and was beaten at the Australian titles by former swim star Rebecca Creedy last season.
After leading the ironwoman series heading in to round 3, Hancock’s title hopes took a dive when she was dumped during the ski leg and relegated to a disastrous 19th.
Her campaign never recovered.
She admitted the big-wave stack, and the pressures of being surf lifesaving’s pin-up girl, took their toll last year.
“I didn’t really think it (the spotlight and scrutiny) would affect me as much as it did,” she said.
“There were also a lot of people who enjoyed seeing me fall and that side of things was hard to get used to.
“But I’m a year older now and I’ve got that extra experience to be able to handle to pressure better.”
The absence of many of the country’s top ironmen has left the men’s field severely depleted, but the women’s event still retains star power.
Despite Pluimers taking an indefinite break from the sport, the women’s race is wide open with Brodie Moir, young gun Jordan Mercer and veteran Hayley Bateup looming as Hancock’s main rivals, along with her own sister Bonnie.
Bateup, a three-time winner of life saving’s ultimate endurance test, was plagued by shoulder troubles last year, but said she was primed for another assault on her favourite event.
“This time last year I couldn’t hold a ski paddle for more than half an hour so my preparation has been 100 per cent better,” she said.
“I’ve won this race three times and I’ve always finished on the podium so I’m really looking forward to it.”
Source: Jeremy Pierce / Gold Coast Bulletin