In an interview with ESPN published yesterday, John John Florence admitted that there’s a possibility he would consider surfing the Pipeline Masters if it meant qualifying for the Olympics. John John, of course, underwent what I thought at the time to be season-ending ACL surgery after he re-injured his already damaged knee kicking out of a sizeable wave during the contest in Brazil (I still kind of think it is season-ending).
But this is obviously the first time surfing will be featured in the Olympics so it adds an element of importance to the showcase in Japan next year (even though the waves might not be up to snuff). Still, John John, and most Americans on tour like Conner Coffin, Kolohe Andino and of course Kelly Slater, would like to represent the Stars and Stripes in 2020.
And the qualification is straight forward enough for Americans: the top-two finishers on the WSL end-of-season rankings will qualify for the Olys. Thanks to a fantastic start John John currently is in position to qualify along with ratings leader Andino. But Kelly lurks at the Number 8 spot. JJF hasn’t ruled out surfing Pipe to make the Olympic cut: “It is my goal to get better for Pipeline in case I have to come back and compete and gain points,” he said. “That is a short-term goal. And if Kelly doesn’t gain enough points the rest of the year, it is a long-term goal to be 150 percent ready at the start of the next WCT season and have ample time to train for the Olympics next year.”
Oh, the drama. Objectively, his return at Pipe would make for amazing story lines during the WSL’s most important event. But on the human side, knowing how dangerous that wave is, and having interviewed John John on several occasions and gained respect for the way he handles his business, it kind of makes my stomach queasy.
If John John Florence were to return at Pipe it would be a mere five months after reconstructive knee surgery to repair an ACL. In professional sports, that just doesn’t happen. A year is pretty much the bar for NFL and NBA players. Heck for any human.
Pipeline is absolutely the most physical wave on tour, given the late drops that often become airdrops, the beatings when gorgeously-blue pits clamp shut like giant, foamy mouse traps – and what if it’s smaller and the contest turns into an air game? It appears that John John has thought of this as well, as he told the Mother Ship when asked about the possibility he just might not have the stability in that joint to make it happen: “I will do everything I can in my control to be a part of the Olympics, but I am very aware of the things I can’t control. I am trying not to react to the things that I can’t control.”