There was no one rooting harder for Jordy Smith this week than Mexico’s Alan Cleland. Thanks to Smith’s ninth-place finish at the WSL Shiseido Tahiti Pro, Cleland has qualified for the Paris 2024 Olympics.
The 21-year-old phenom who cut his teeth in the tubes of Pascuales will become the first Mexican surfer to ever compete in the Olympics.
“I haven’t been wanting to look at the (WSL Tahiti Pro) today,” said Cleland when contacted shortly before the news became official. “I’ve been really nervous. It’s been on my mind consistently. It’s been hard to watch the event and see who is in what heat, but I know it’s on today.”
“It’s been one of my dreams (to become an Olympian) since I can remember, since I started surfing,” added Cleland. “I looked up to the surfers who did it in 2021. It’s a crazy opportunity and unique experience to be a part of.”
Cleland is fresh off a Gold Medal at the 2023 ISA World Surfing Games (WSG) in El Salvador. He also recently paid a visit to Tahiti where he was a standout in the hollow tubes of Teahupo’o, the Olympic venue.
Smith already held a qualification slot for Paris from the 2023 WSG. But now that he has qualified through the WSL CT, which is higher in the hierarchy of qualification events, his World Surfing Games slot became vacant.
Since Smith earned his WSG slot as the highest ranking African surfer, normally the next ranked African would replace his slot. The next African in line was Morocco’s Teva Bouchgua in 31st. However, given that the qualification system required a top 30 placement for quality control, the slot now goes to the highest ranking eligible surfer of any country: the gold medalist, Cleland.
Cleland’s Olympic qualification comes on a day of competition at Teahupo’o that also saw Japan’s Kanoa Igarashi earn a provisional qualification slot via the CT, which vacated another WSG slot for his countryman Reo Inaba. Australia’s Jack Robinson and South Africa’s Matt McGillivray have clinched Olympic slots as well. One men’s CT qualification slot remains for a Brazilian, either Gabriel Medina, Joao Chianca, or Yago Dora.
When the women’s CT resumes qualification implications are on the line for the final remaining spots for surfers from the U.S. and Australia.
Following the completion of the Tahiti Pro, the remaining qualification events are the 2023 Pan American Games in Chile and the 2024 ISA World Surfing Games in Puerto Rico.