Surfing

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John John Florence likely to miss Olympics, opens door for Kelly Slater

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John John Florence, the world’s top-ranked surfer, is set to miss his sport’s Olympic debut after tearing an ACL for the second time in 13 months.

Florence, a two-time world champion from Oahu’s North Shore, will undergo likely season-ending surgery after suffering the knee injury recently in Brazil, according to his social media.

“I’m excited for this new adventure and everything I will learn along the way,” was posted on his Instagram.

Florence, 26, came back from a high-grade partial ACL tear in June 2018 to win two of the first four events of this World Surf League season. He is the only U.S. man to win a world title since Kelly Slater won the last of his 11 in 2011.

With Florence out, the 47-year-old Slater’s chances of making the Olympic team went from unlikely to very possible. He would be in the Tokyo 2020 field if the World Surf League season ended today as the second of two U.S. qualifiers behind Kolohe Andino (excluding Florence of course).

Andino is ranked second in the world, with Slater at No. 7 and the next American, Conner Coffin, at 11th with six contests left in the 11-event season that runs into December. The top 10 in the 2019 World Surf League standings (limit two per country) qualify for Tokyo.

Slater, at 48 next year, would be 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.

MORE: Top U.S. surfer has links to Egg McMuffin, Guinness World Record holder

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Surfing world champion Gabriel Medina’s birthday bond with Neymar

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Of Brazilian Gabriel Medina‘s 7.7 million Instagram followers, most began tracking him after his first world surf tour win at age 17, his first world title at 20 or his second crown last year at 24.

But not Neymar. The soccer icon with 113 million followers got in on the ground floor. On Medina’s 14th or 15th birthday, to be more precise.

At the time, either in 2007 or 2008, Neymar was already big in Brazil, though he didn’t start playing professionally until 2009 and didn’t move from Brazil’s domestic league to the titans of Europe until 2013.

“My manager told [Neymar] I wanted to meet him, and then he pretty much organized it,” Medina said in December. “I met [Neymar] first time at his house in Santos.”

Medina, who lived a 90-minute drive from Santos in Sao Paulo, celebrated his birthday by presenting a gift to his fellow precocious athlete, a surfboard.

The two since palled around Brazil and Europe, playing Counter-Strike and poker and hanging at Carnival and on cruises, Medina said. In 2014, Neymar promoted on his social media a live broadcast of Medina’s competition as he tried to become South America’s first world champion in surfing, which makes its Olympic debut in 2020.

Neymar, whose lone sibling is a younger sister, calls Medina his brother. He attended a World Surf League contest in Portugal in October.

“Really good friend outside of the beach and inside of the beach and in the soccer fields,” Medina said. “He put a lot of work and is one of the best. It’s good to have a friend like that.”

Medina was in Rio for the start of the Olympics, a few weeks after he became the first surfer to land a backflip in a contest. But he had to leave before Neymar penned the moment of the Games, slotting the shootout winner to deliver Brazil its first Olympic soccer title.

Two months later, Medina’s stepfather and coach, known in Brazil as Charlão, was involved in an unspecified incident involving World Surf League officials.

He was suspended for six months. Medina struggled early in the 2017 season, rebounded to win the ninth and 10th events but lost in the quarterfinals of the Billabong Pipe Masters finale, ending his comeback bid and allowing American John John Florence to clinch a repeat title.

Medina said his climb back in 2018 to his first world title in four years was more difficult than earning that maiden crown, when he became the youngest male world champ since Kelly Slater won the first of his record 11 titles in 1992. Medina, whose favorite tattoo is a family crest inside his upper arm, mentioned dealing with his dad’s situation.

“When you win the first one you kind of get in a comfortable zone, you know?” he said. “That’s why I think the second is harder. You have to put a lot of work, even more than the first one.”

Brazil had its most successful Olympics ever in Rio, unsurprisingly, with national records of seven gold medals and 19 total medals. It finished 13th in the medal standings, also a best. Those numbers are expected to descend without a home-field advantage in Tokyo. The addition of surfing should be a boost, though Medina is not guaranteed one of two Brazilian spots at the Games. Three of the top four men in last season’s world tour standings were from Brazil.

Which led Medina to proclaim that surfing has passed volleyball as Brazil’s second-most popular sport.

“Of course,” Medina said, “soccer is No. 1.”

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MORE: Top U.S. female surfer has Olympic swimming, Egg McMuffin ties

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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MORE: Top U.S. female surfer has Olympic swimming, Egg McMuffin ties