Panic and sorrow reverberated through the surfing world yesterday after Kelly Slater’s career and Olympic hopes faded following his loss to Yago Dora in the Round of 16 at the Tahiti Pro. Mainstream media even picked up on the story.
“Kelly Slater’s Olympic hopes end in Tahiti,” NBC Sports boldly claimed in a headline.
I can’t speak to his retirement, but that headline is a bit misleading.
First, Kelly Slater’s hopes of qualifying for Paris 2024 via the 2023 WSL Championship Tour ended long ago. Even if Slater won in Tahiti he wouldn’t have come close to qualifying.
Second, there is still a chance that Kelly Slater can surf in Paris 2024 – and it doesn’t require magic or loopholes (to give credit, the NBC Sports article does mention this). Focus on this part of the qualification system:
“The National Olympic Committee (NOC) with the highest ranked team for Men at the 2024 ISA World Surfing Games (WSG) will obtain one quota place. In case the allocation goes to an NOC that has already qualified two athletes, such NOC would be allowed to enter in the Paris 2024 Surfing competition a third athlete.”
So there you have it. While Griffin Colapinto and John John Florence have filled the U.S. quota on the men’s side, the U.S.men just need to be the highest ranked team at next year’s World Surfing Games in Puerto Rico. That will open up a third slot available for an American surfer.
So who will be competing for the U.S. in Puerto Rico for a chance to earn that third quota and extend the legacy of Slater?
According to the ISA Eligibility and Nomination Requirements, the U.S. must select its top two eligible surfers from the 2023 WSL CT ranking assuming they are not injured – Colapinto and Florence. They are free to select the third member of the team, which will be interesting. Do they take Kelly? Do they take the next ranked American, either Barron Mamiya or Ian Gentil?
An even more interesting question? If the U.S. men get the job done, who gets the extra Olympic slot? Will it be the surfer that helped them win the WSG, or is it general consensus that any extra Paris 2024 slot goes to the GOAT even though he didn’t finish better than ninth in any event this year?
Keep an eye on this one. Kelly Slater’s Olympic hopes are still hanging on by a thread.