Kelly Slater failed to qualify for surfing’s Olympic debut, eliminated from contention at the last qualifying contest, the season-ending Pipe Masters on the North Shore of Oahu on Thursday.
Slater, a 47-year-old, 11-time world champion, lost in the semifinals at Pipe Masters, matching his best result on tour in three years. Two-time world champion John John Florence reached the quarterfinals, which meant Slater needed to win the contest to make the Olympic team.
Florence, in his first contest in five months since tearing an ACL for the second time in 13 months, had a lead on Slater in Olympic qualifying standings going into Pipe Masters. He rushed the comeback from surgery, unable to stand on his surfboard as recently as a month ago.
“Just coming back from it, getting back in training and setting this challenge for myself to do as many heats as I can in this event and just make it as hard as I could for Kelly, it’s been an awesome challenge,” Florence told Hawaii News Now.
Florence joins the previously qualified Kolohe Andino, Carissa Moore and Caroline Marks on the first U.S. Olympic surfing team. A nation can qualify no more than two surfers per gender for Tokyo. Slater is the highest-ranking U.S. man not to qualify.
Slater had a golden opportunity to qualify when Florence went down with the ACL tear. But Slater put up his worst string of Championship Tour results in nearly two decades. Working through a back injury, he failed to make the quarterfinals of the seven contests going into Pipe Masters.
“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. Slater has since walked back the comments.
“Might have to do one more lap [in 2020], we’ll see,” he said Thursday.
He made good on part of last year’s proclamation — 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 an HBO documentary that aired before Pipe Masters. “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.”
Slater, who turns 48 on Feb. 11, was trying to become the oldest U.S. Summer Olympic rookie competitor in a sport other than equestrian, sailing or shooting (or art competitions!) in the last 100 years, supplanting Martina Navratilova, according to the OlyMADMen.
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