Eleven-time world champion Kelly Slater failed to qualify for the US Olympic surfing team at the Billabong Pipe Masters on Thursday ahead of the sport’s debut at next summer’s Tokyo Games.
Slater, 47, was defeated in a semi-final heat by top-ranked Italo Ferreira of Brazil at Hawaii’s famed Banzai Pipeline, finishing the season without enough points to make the two-man team the United States will send to Japan.
Hawaii’s John John Florence, 27, clinched the last remaining spot despite bowing in his quarter-final heat, joining California’s Kolohe Andino on the men’s team. Carissa Moore and Caroline Marks have already qualified for Team USA’s first women’s squad.
The early exit by Florence, a two-time world champion who was back in action for the first time in five months following a torn ACL, opened the door for Slater to qualify if he won Thursday’s contest, but the Florida native fell short by a 14.77 to 2.57 score at the storied event on the North Shore of Oahu.
“This is an absolute dream team,” USA Surfing CEO Greg Cruse said. “Team USA not only has the best surfers in the world, they are spectacular representatives of our sport and country. Their professionalism, passion and dedication to excellence is unmatched.”
Julian Wilson managed to book the last remaining opening on Australia’s Olympic team. The Queenslander was eliminated in the last 16, but Jack Freestone’s quarter-final defeat to Slater assured Wilson a ticket to Tokyo alongside countryman Owen Wright.
World Surf League (@wsl)
Buzzer Beater! @kellyslater takes the win against @jackfreestone in the dying seconds of the Quarterfinals. He will meet with World Title contender @ferreiraitalo15 in the Semifinals.
Every heat is history at the #BillabongPipeMasters. Watch Live! @billabong1973 #VTCS pic.twitter.com/4YD43dtRzy
Earlier Thursday, Slater clinched his third Triple Crown title as the best overall surfer in the three season-ending competitions, having previously turned the trick in 1995 and 1998.
The Olympic surfing competition will take place at Shidashita Beach, also known as Shida, about 40 miles outside of Tokyo in the middle of the Chiba coastline. The two-day contest, which is limited to high-performance shortboards, will feature a waiting period of 16 days to ensure quality surf.