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Kelly Slater ups Olympic prospects after viral moment; Brazilian wins world title

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A 46-year-old Kelly Slater matched his best finish on the World Surf League in more than two years, reaching the semifinals of the Billabong Pipeline Masters in Hawaii on Monday. With that kind of surfing, he could next year qualify for the sport’s Olympic debut.

The 11-time world champion lost to second-ranked Australian Julian Wilson 14.2 to 11.17 at the season-ending event.

Earlier, the seven-time Pipe Masters champ Slater eliminated Brazilian Filipe Toledo, who came into Hawaii ranked third in the world this year. Slater’s highlights included what’s being called “the Houdini tube ride,” which went viral a day later on Monday.

Brazilian Gabriel Medina clinched his second world title by reaching the final. Medina, a 24-year-old who landed the first backflip in a contest in 2016, is so popular that he has 6.5 million Instagram followers, nearly three times Slater’s amount.

Slater has said the 2019 season will be his last on tour, but he has not ruled out competing at the Tokyo Olympics should he qualify as one of the top two Americans in next year’s standings.

“If I make the [Olympic] team, I’ll compete,” Slater said in April.

Slater dropped to the third-ranked American in 2016 and missed four of 11 events last season after breaking his foot.

Still, he was the only U.S. man to record multiple top-three finishes among the 11 World Surf League contests in 2018, even though he only competed three times total due to injury.

“I actually think my hand cut the other day took my mind off the foot,” Slater said Monday. “And then yesterday I banged my other foot on the reef. That took my mind off of this. Then this morning I landed on my back.”

The U.S. had no men ranked in the top six in the world going into the Pipe Masters. The 2016 and 2017 World champion — 25-year-old John John Florence of Hawaii — has been out since tearing an ACL in June.

The 2019 WSL season — and the start of Olympic qualifying — begins in Gold Coast, Australia, in April.

“It’s just nice to dust off the contest thing a little bit,” Slater said while at his 26th Pipe Masters, according to World Surf League commentators.

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Kelly Slater plots retirement, but Olympic question remains

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Kelly Slater, an 11-time world champion surfer, plans to retire from the sport’s top-level series next year, but he could still qualify for surfing’s Olympic debut in 2020.

“My basic plan is to get myself really healthy, again, get ready for April next year, and next year be my last year on [the World Surf League] tour and just be done with it,” Slater said in a video posted Monday.

The top two Americans per gender from the 2019 World Surf League standings qualify for the Olympics. So Slater could retire from the WSL after next season but still have a spot in Tokyo if he wants it.

In April, the 46-year-old Slater said he was “50-50” on whether he planned to make a 2020 Olympic run. “If I make the team, I’ll compete,” he said then.

A representative for Slater has not responded to a request for clarification on Slater’s Olympic stance.

Slater dropped to the third-ranked American in 2016 and missed four of 11 events last season after breaking his foot. His best finish in the other seven events was a fifth. He competed this week for the first time since December.

The U.S. boasts the two-time reigning world champion — 25-year-old John John Florence of Hawaii — but no other men from last season’s top six or this season’s top 11.

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MORE: World’s top surfer: World title bigger than Olympics

Watch Shaun White ride Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch wave

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Three iconic boarders. One innovative wave.

Shaun White recently joined Tony Hawk and Kelly Slater (and Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder) at Slater’s Surf Ranch, an artificial wave pool that Slater hopes will revolutionize competitive surfing.

White live streamed the experience on Instagram last week and shared this video of the experience for posterity.

Last month, Slater said he was holding out hope that the first Olympic surfing competition in Tokyo in 2020 would use wave-pool technology rather than the already decided freshwater venue in Japan, which obviously comes with the typical variables of surfing contests.

Slater, 46, may even try and make the first U.S. Olympic surfing team.

White, who was at the last two Summer Olympics as a spectator and correspondent for NBC, may try to make the 2020 Games in skateboarding, another new Olympic sport.

Hawk, 50, is not expected to attempt a comeback from a near-two-decade retirement.

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MORE: Kelly Slater comments on 2020 Olympic hopes