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ICHINOMIYA, Japan — American Carissa Moore, the child prodigy who could beat the boys and grew up to be the youngest world champion surfer, is now an Olympic gold medalist.

The 28-year-old prevailed after struggling in the early heats to win the sport’s debut at the Games.

Moore beat Bianca Buitendag of South Africa, who won silver. Japan’s Amuro Tsuzuki took home bronze after handily winning her heat against American Caroline Marks.

“It’s been a crazy couple of days,” Moore said. “A little bit of a roller coaster of emotions just trying to figure out the break, find my rhythm, learning how to trust myself without my family here.”

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On the men’s side, Italo Ferreira of Brazil took home the gold.

The relatively modest beach break conditions were unlike the world-class waves Moore is used to as a veteran of the professional tour and at home in Hawaii. By the end, the methodical surfer finally got in rhythm with the ocean to deliver the kind of standout performance that has defined her career.

The picture-perfect ending even included a rainbow that popped into the sky as Moore, the only native Hawaiian surfer at the Games, shredded waves in the final against Buitendag.

Moore celebrates her triumph in flag-waving style.
Moore celebrates her triumph in flag-waving style.YUKI IWAMURA/AFP via Getty Images

Calling it “divine intervention,” the 17th-ranked Buitendag won silver after pulling off upset after upset over the three-day competition.

She then said she was retiring from the sport.

“I felt like this was the perfect opportunity for closure,” the 27-year-old Buitendag said. “I’m ready for the next season of my life.”

When the clock ran out in the men’s final, Ferreira turned to the ocean, put his hands together in prayer, and wept, nearly knocked over by the waves crashing onto shore.

He won his final handily against Kanoa Igarashi of Japan despite crashing through an air to land on a broken board. The incident required a quick board switch on shore near the beginning of the heat, which didn’t seem to rattle the man who had so little growing up that he first learned to surf on a cooler.

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“I broke my good board on my first wave,” said the 27-year-old Ferreira. “That board gives me good speed, the other one is more slow. It’s super hard out there, but I knew that there was a lot of opportunities around.”

Both Moore and Ferreira will be back on the World Surf League tour next month, with stops in Oaxaca, Mexico, and Teahupo’o, Tahiti. The famous French Polynesia reef break also happens to be the site of the 2024 Olympic surfing contest.

Brazil's Italo Ferreira surfs his way a gold medal.
Brazil's Italo Ferreira surfs his way a gold medal.YUKI IWAMURA/AFP via Getty Images

Igarashi, the silver medalist who surfed a career-best air that sent him soaring over the water for seven seconds in an earlier heat, couldn’t hide his disappointment that he didn’t come out on top.

“It’s a special moment for our sport, but I’ve got mixed feelings,” said Igarashi, who grew up surfing at Tsurigasaki beach, the Olympic site about 60 miles east of Tokyo. “It’s so hard to gather that into words.

“I’m proud of myself, and I was of proud myself even before this event, but it’s just been such a roller coaster in the last four years on the road for the Olympics.”

A home-field advantage proved helpful in the women’s event, too, as 20-year-old Amuro Tsuzuki of Japan earned bronze after winning her heat against Caroline Marks of the United States.

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Owen Wright of Australia also won bronze, concluding an extraordinary comeback when he defeated top-ranked Gabriel Medina.

In 2015, Wright suffered a traumatic brain injury after being pounded by a wave in Hawaii. The accident left him fighting for his life, but he came back to surfing after learning how to walk and talk again.

“I’ve been through some bloody battles,” Wright said, “and all my close friends and family stood beside me, and coming from that, I had this goal to stand here with a medal around my neck.”