Kelly Slater surfs Pipe Masters for place in Olympics

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Kelly Slater‘s hopes of competing in the first Olympic surfing contest come down to the famed Pipe Masters off the North Shore of Oahu, which could begin as early as Sunday.

Sounds like he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“If there’s an event on tour that favors me, it would be this one,” Slater, a 47-year-old, 11-time world champion, said in an HBO documentary that aired this week. “If I can win the Pipe Masters this year, and if it was the last contest I ever won in my career, I would die a happy man, for sure.”

Slater has won Pipe Masters a record seven times, though five were in the 1990s and the last was in 2013. He goes into the season-ending contest riding his worst string of Championships Tour results in nearly two decades.

Slater must reach the quarterfinals and finish better than 2016 and 2017 World champion John John Florence at Pipe Masters to have any chance of qualifying for the Tokyo Games.

Florence, who was born the same year as Slater’s first world title (1992), is expected to return to the tour at Pipe Masters. He missed the last five months of contests after tearing an ACL for the second time in 13 months.

That injury opened the door for Slater to grab one of two available U.S. Olympic spots, given to the top two finishers in the season-long standings. Kolohe Andino rose to the challenge to grab one of them, making the quarterfinals of the last two contests.

But Slater, working through a back injury, failed to make the quarterfinals of the last seven contests. Opportunity missed.

“Ninth place, to me, used to be a pretty awful result. I’m used to at least a quarterfinal on for most of my career,” he said in July. “I’m not horrified by my results, but I’m also not surprised. Maybe other people are because everyone focuses on my age and that kind of thing. It’s not like I’m going to all of a sudden forget how to do this thing, you know?”

Slater made a surprise announcement on July 2, 2018, that his plan was to return from a broken foot, compete the entire 2019 season and retire. It called into question if he had a desire to be an Olympian. The video published by the World Surf League was later taken down. Slater has since walked back the comments.

He will make good on part of that statement — entering every contest, a first since 2015.

“I’ve gone a little bit cold on that, not that I won’t [retire], but not that I will,” he said in the HBO film. “People say I want to go out on top, that kind of thing. Of course we all want to go out on top. I want to go out when the battery is just done.”

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