Thomas and Gilling crowned 2022 Jim Wall Iron Man winners

January 6, 2022 BY

2022's Surf Coast Times Jim Wall Iron Man winners Matt Gilling and Sophie Thomas. Photos: MICHAEL CHAMBERS

ALMOST 200 athletes, their families, and hundreds more spectators and passers-by witnessed a wonderful start to the Surf Coast event calendar at the 2022 Surf Coast Times Jim Wall Iron Man on Sunday morning.

Local Torquay SLSC athlete Sophie Thomas and Burleigh Heads’ Matt Gilling were crowned the Jim Wall winners at the conclusion of the 61st edition of the day.

The male Jim Wall final three, Archie Vernon (Surfers Paradise), Matt Gilling (Burleigh Heads) and Jesse Coulson (Half Moon SLSC).

Thomas made her first trip to the podium in front of a home crowd, while Gilling cemented his Jim Wall dynasty earning his third win in four years.

“I could not be prouder of the club’s efforts on the day,” Torquay SLSC president Tiffany Quinlan said.

“All the volunteers and the other clubs that have supported us run this event for a long time, we have all worked really hard to build this event up.

“The weather certainly turned it on, we would have loved to see a decent wave or two, but this day really showed the depth of the clubs involved and it produced an exciting and friendly atmosphere.

“We were starved of carnivals last year, so we were stoked to kick this year off on the right foot and it was a bit of a risky move bringing the event earlier in the day, but we really pulled it off so we might see next year’s event start at the same time as well.”

The ski separated many packs of athletes on the waves back into shore.

A total of 188 participants, with a handful of late entrants, filled the event lists with five interstate competitors amongst the ranks originating from Surfers Paradise and Burleigh Heads.

The Open Male and Female Surf races begun the day at 9am sharp with club tents and spectators from all over the state lining Torquay Surf Beach and the 32 staggered events rolled on without a cloud in the sky.

The day’s revised format saw plenty of tight finishes and shoulder to shoulder jostling, creating for a day filled with adrenaline and excitement.

The new format of shorter races for this year’s Jim Wall events had plenty of close finishes.

Prior to the headlining Jim Wall acts, the Under 13 and 15 male and female Irons were decided.

Katie Gorvett-Page (Mentone SLSC) and William Goldstraw (Ocean Grove SLSC) took the 13’s Irons, while Annabelle Harpley (Mentone SLSC) and Hayden Mellow (Mentone SLSC) secure a club-double in the Under 15 age bracket.

Both fields in the Jim Wall Iron were reduced to 10 at the conclusion of the second round of eliminators for both men and women.

Gilling picked up where he left off with a solid win in round two of the eliminators, despite a hot start from Surfers Paradise’s Archie Vernon.

The boards were one of three disciplines athletes needed to be proficient in to be successful on Sunday morning.

The breeze picked up for the finals of both Iron Man races, but the women were the first to brace the change in condition.

The pack dwindled down to a three-woman race on the swim, with Mia Cook hot on the heels of Sophie Thomas on the final leg.

Strong in the water, Thomas solidified a decent lead on the way into the arch and had only a clear line of site as she earned her first Jim Wall Iron Man event win.

“It was really exciting to win,” Thomas said.

“I’ve watched this race go around so many times and been in it too, but I’m absolutely stoked to get my names on the lines with Jim Wall.

“I decided to race all of the other races leading up to the eliminators because I’m someone who gets better later on in competition, I’m a bit of a diesel engine, I guess.

“Just needed to push the pace and in the last race it was important to just sit in front of the pack and lucky enough I ran off with it.”

The female Jim Wall’s final three going at it ahead of the final swim.

In the men’s final, the pack stayed close on the board with Half Moon Bay’s Jesse Coulson leading the way, but six separated on the first wave in for the ski leg.

This saw Surfer Paradise’s Archie Vernon quickly gain the advantage on the first and second transitions, but Gilling saw the opportunity to level things out on the swim leg.

As Gilling had done all day, the swim was his forte. Putting a few body lengths between himself and Vernon and then catching the first wave in, it was a comfortable third Jim Wall win for the Burleigh Heads representative.

“Getting the third win was awesome,” said Gilling.

“The third in four years is nice too after 2019 and 2021, but this one was super tough with the new format and shorter races.

“Doing three Jim Wall races made it super tough to back it up, so I used the first two races to build a bit of confidence and swam home strong on the third, which I was able to lean on a bit.”

Second and third in the women’s Jim Wall was Grace Harris of Burleigh Heads and Mia Cook of Warrnambool. In the men’s, it was Archie Vernon of finishing second and Jesse Coulson solidifying third.