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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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Carissa Moore wins fourth surfing world title ahead of Olympic debut

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Hawaiian Carissa Moore clinched her fourth surfing world title, one day after qualifying for the sport’s Olympic debut.

Moore, 27, was crowned at the season-ending Maui Pro after her closest pursuer, fellow U.S. Olympic qualifier Caroline Marks, was eliminated in the quarterfinals on Monday.

Only Kelly Slater has won more world titles than Moore among American men or women (11).

Moore, Marks and another American, Lakey Peterson, came to Maui with chances for the world title. Moore led the standings going into the event by finishing first, second or third in the previous six contests, and therefore controlled her own destiny.

Peterson’s bids for a world title and the Olympics ended when she was eliminated in the round of 16 on Sunday. Two surfers per gender per nation can qualify for Tokyo.

Moore, who started surfing at age 5 off the beaches of Waikiki, has been a force for nearly a decade. In 2011, she became the youngest male or female world champion at 18. She won again in 2013 and 2015, but was supplanted by Australians Tyler Wright and Stephanie Gilmore the last three years.

“This has not only been three years of work, but three years of learning and growing,” Moore said. “It’s been a journey.”

Marks, a 17-year-old from Florida, has been a revelation in this Olympic cycle. In 2017, she became the youngest surfer to qualify for the Championship Tour. She finished 2018 ranked No. 7 in the world. Then she won the 2019 season opener, plus the penultimate contest, and made the Olympic team over Peterson, last season’s world No. 2.

Moore and Marks head into the Olympic year as medal favorites. Their closest competition comes from Australia: seven-time world champion Gilmore and Sally Fitzgibbons.

The U.S. men are comparative underdogs to Brazil, which boasts three of the world’s top four. The men’s world champion will be decided later this month at the Billabong Pipe Masters on the North Shore of Oahu.

Pipe Masters will also decide the second American to join Kolohe Andino on the Olympic team — either Slater, two-time world champion John John Florence (returning from an ACL tear) or Seth Moniz.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

MORE: Athletes qualified for U.S. Olympic team

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Carissa Moore, Caroline Marks qualify for U.S. Olympic surfing team

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Carissa Moore and Caroline Marks, the world’s top two female surfers, will make up the first U.S. Olympic women’s surfing team. Lakey Peterson, who entered this week’s season finale ranked No. 2, will not be competing in Tokyo.

Moore and Marks prevailed in one of the most competitive Olympic qualifying races across all sports and all nations. The U.S. has the top three female surfers in the World Surf League rankings, but a maximum of two surfers per gender per nation can compete at the Tokyo Games.

Peterson was eliminated from Olympic contention after she lost in the round of 16 — and Marks advanced to the quarterfinals — at the Championship Tour finale in Maui on Sunday.

“That was a rough blow, for sure, but that’s the way it goes,” Peterson said. “Great job to Carissa and Caroline. They’ve had incredible years.”

Moore, Marks and Peterson each won two of the first nine events this season to take up the top three spots going into Maui. Moore and Marks are vying for the world title at the contest, which continues Monday.

Moore, a three-time world champion, and Marks, a 17-year-old in her second full season on the Championship Tour, are gold-medal contenders for surfing’s Olympic debut next year.

Moore, a Hawaiian, was ticketed for stardom as a preteen. In 2011 at 18, she became the youngest world champion in history. Two years ago, the Floridian Marks became the youngest surfer ever to qualify for the Championship Tour.

Peterson, whose mom is a former Guinness World Record holder and grandfather the McDonald’s Egg McMuffin creator, finished last season ranked No. 2 in the world.

But, crucially, she was beaten by two-time world champion Tyler Wright of Australia in the round of 16 on Sunday. Wright is competing for the first time since a 17-month contest break due to illness.

“I pretty much wanted to cry,” Wright said of crushing Peterson’s world title and Olympic qualification hopes. “I’m so sorry. I was banking on that she would catch another wave and convert.”

There is one more men’s spot available on the U.S. Olympic surfing team. It will likely be filled by either 11-time world champion Kelly Slater or 2016 and 2017 World champion John John Florence, decided at the Billabong Pipe Masters later this month.

Kolohe Andino was the first U.S. surfer to qualify for Tokyo.

MORE: Athletes qualified for U.S. Olympic team

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