Gabriel Medina at the Olympics Is a Win-Win for Everyone

Medina didn’t lose a heat in Puerto Rico. Photo: Tony Heff//World Surf League

The Inertia

Gabriel Medina went to the ISA World Surfing Games with one goal in mind: to qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympics. He did everything in his power to make that happen. He won all eight of his heats to narrowly give Brazil’s men the edge over France. The reward was not just the individual gold medal, but the “extra” Olympic slot that was predetermined to go to Medina if it was conveyed. 

It was an impressive performance under pressure that certainly pleased all the Olympic stakeholders. The International Olympic Committee (IOC), the ISA, the WSL, sponsors, surf fans, and fellow Olympic surfers will all benefit from Medina’s iconic barrel-riding skills and star-status at Paris 2024. 

Medina’s level of stardom, influence, and fame is unrivaled by any other surfer in the sport. He’s a household name in his surf-crazed home of Brazil and is used as the face of national advertising campaigns. He’ll be bringing his 11.5 million Instagram followers with him to tune into the Olympics, along with those of his high-profile friends in Brazil, like soccer star Neymar, who has 219 million Instagram followers of his own. 

So, why is that important? First, the IOC needs to show value to their broadcast partners and sponsors. And with billions at stake, showing value is important, if not paramount. Value comes in the form of viewership, engagement, visibility, etc. Medina is the type of surfer that will cause the entire country of Brazil to turn on their TVs, post on social media, and visit the Olympic website. He has the star power to move the needle for a network like NBC. 

The ISA will also be jumping for joy with Medina’s inclusion. The IOC ranks all sports at the Games into revenue groups according to criteria that include TV viewership figures, digital media popularity, public surveys, percentage of tickets sold, and quantity of media coverage. How each sport ranks in these criteria ultimately plays a factor in how well they’re funded by the IOC. I had a conversation back in November of 2023 with ISA President Fernando Aguerre where we discussed why surfing (and the other new sports, skateboarding and sport climbing) still aren’t being funded like permanent sports on the program. However, for LA 2028, Aguerre confirmed that surfing will be part of the revenue distribution. How much funding they’ll get will depend on their performance in those categories. It certainly won’t hurt to have Medina’s help in boosting the stats.

For surf fans, the excitement has been turned up a notch with the chance to watch one of the all-time greats of this generation pulling into Teahupo’o pits. While the men’s and women’s lineups are stacked with talent, only John John Florence’s mesmerizing tube-riding skills match up with Medina. Most fans, myself included, will be rooting for a John John versus Medina final for the men’s gold medal. 

Lastly, the Olympic surfers themselves should rejoice that they’ll be able to compete alongside Medina. His performance at Teahupo’o has arguably been the best in the world in the past decade. Since Medina’s first world title year, 2014, he has finished no worse than third at the Tahiti Pro. In that span he’s made the finals five times and won the event twice. A poor showing for Medina at Teahupo’o is virtually unheard-of. Thus, for any competitor of this generation who wants to prove themselves on the biggest stage in sport at one of the most notorious waves in the world, it’s only fitting that they would have to pass through Medina to truly earn their medal. The significance and value of a medal earned at Paris 2024 is elevated with his participation.

I tip my hat to Medina for coming up in the clutch to earn his ticket to Tahiti. He’s one of the most (if not the most) electrifying and fun-to-watch surfers on the planet. The value he’ll add to Paris 2024 is immense, and I’m confident that once the Games wrap up, all the stakeholders – from the IOC to the fans to the athletes – will be more than stoked that he was there. 


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