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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.”

MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

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Beach volleyball player’s dog becomes social media sensation

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Norwegian beach volleyball player Mathias Berntsen‘s dog, Kiara, captivated social media this weekend.

A video of Kiara peppering with Berntsen and a pair across the net on a grass field spread from Berntsen’s Instagram across platforms. Kiara now has 12,000 Instagram followers, more than twice the total of Berntsen.

Berntsen, 24, is one half of Norway’s second-best beach volleyball team.

He and partner Hendrik Mol are ranked 45th in the world and well outside the Tokyo Olympic picture (24 teams go to the Games), but could get in the mix depending on how qualification is amended once sports resume.

Berntsen and his cousin Mol are part of a group called the Beach Volley Vikings. Mol’s younger brother, Anders, and family friend Christian Sorum are the world’s top-ranked team (profiled here).

MORE: Beach volleyball players fly to Australia, learn event is canceled

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FIFA rules on Olympic men’s soccer tournament age eligibility

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For the first time since 1988, some 24-year-olds will be eligible for the Olympic men’s soccer tournament without using an over-age exception.

FIFA announced Friday that it will use the same age eligibility criteria for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 that it intended to use in 2020 — that players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997 are eligible, plus three over-age exceptions. FIFA chose not to move the birthdate deadline back a year after the Olympics were postponed by one year.

Olympic men’s soccer tournaments have been U-23 events — save those exceptions — since the 1992 Barcelona Games. In 1984 and 1988, restrictions kept European and South American players with World Cup experience ineligible. Before that, professionals weren’t allowed at all.

Fourteen of the 16 men’s soccer teams already qualified for the Games using players from under-23 national teams. The last two spots are to be filled by CONCACAF nations, potentially the U.S. qualifying a men’s team for the first time since 2008.

The U.S.’ biggest star, Christian Pulisic, and French superstar Kylian Mbappe were both born in 1998 and thus would have been under the age limit even if FIFA moved the deadline to Jan. 1, 1998.

Perhaps the most high-profile player affected by FIFA’s decision is Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus. The Manchester City star was born April 3, 1997, and thus would have become an over-age exception if FIFA pushed the birthdate rule back a year.

Instead, Brazil could name him to the Olympic team and still keep all of its over-age exceptions.

However, players need permission from their professional club teams to play in the Olympics, often limiting the availability of stars.

MORE: Noah Lyles details training near woods, dog walkers

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