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Top U.S. hope for first Olympic surfing gold medal tears ACL

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John John Florence, the 2016 and 2017 World surfing champion and a U.S. gold-medal hope for the Tokyo Olympics, will be out of competition for months after suffering a high-grade partial ACL tear in early June, according to his social media.

“In terms of competing again I am not sure if it will be 60 days or 120 days, or less or more,” was posted on Florence’s Instagram. “When I return I want to know that I can go as fast and as big as I want to without any thought of my knee. That will be my test before I put a jersey back on.”

Florence, a 25-year-old from Oahu’s North Shore, is the only U.S. man to win a world title since Kelly Slater won the last of his 11 in 2011.

Florence had a slow start to the 2018 season with a best finish of ninth in the first five events before the injury. The American men have struggled overall, with none in the top nine of the current standings.

Qualifying for surfing’s Olympic debut begins next year. The top 10 in the 2019 World Surf League standings (limit two per country) qualify for Tokyo.

The 46-year-old Slater said earlier this month that he plans to retire from the sport’s top-level series next year but did not say whether he would compete in Tokyo if he qualifies via the World Surf League.

The U.S. is stronger in women’s surfing with three-time world champion Carissa Moore and Lakey Peterson, who ranks second this season.

MORE: 20 U.S. athletes to watch, 2 years out from Tokyo 2020

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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

Shaun White
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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