Kelly Slater Misses Olympic Surfing Berth as John John Florence Qualifies

No surfer has made more of big waves and big moments than Kelly Slater, and on Thursday at the Banzai Pipeline in Hawaii, the 47-year-old positioned himself for another memorable combination.

Having reached the semifinals of the Billabong Pipe Masters, an event he had won seven times in his career, Slater needed to win two more heats — the semifinals and finals — to overtake John John Florence and clinch a spot at the 2020 Summer Olympics.

But Slater’s hopes were wiped out in the semifinal of Pipe Masters, the storied event on Oahu’s North Shore that, this year, marked the end of the Olympic qualifying process for the World Surf League.

His loss to Brazil’s Italo Ferreira gave the last spot on the American men’s team to Florence, Slater’s longtime protégé, rival and neighbor.

Slater came back to beat Jack Freestone of Australia with two big scores late in a slow heat, the last in a tight barrel to the right in the final 40 seconds.

“I saw it coming, I was so nervous,” Slater said during an interview on the World Surf League live stream afterward. “I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t believe it’s happening. That’s the wave I need.’”

With that kind of good fortune, Slater figured: “It’s your day. It’s supposed to happen to you. Maybe you put in the good work or did something nice for somebody, I don’t know. Some kind of karma, maybe.”

On shore, waiting for his heat, Florence watched and turned to the two-time world champion Gabriel Medina.

“How lucky is this guy?” Florence said.

Medina knocked Florence out of the event and put Slater’s Olympic destiny in his own hands. But his good fortune did not last. Ferreira claimed a big lead in the semifinals, and time ran out on Slater, an 11-time world champion whose last title came in 2011. Unable to secure any noteworthy rides, he lost to Ferreira, 14.77 points to 2.57. Ferreira then beat Medina in the final for his first world title, preventing Medina from winning his third.

Slater had hoped that the Summer Games would cap his career.

“Surfing in the Olympics, that would mark 40 years of competing for me, next year,” Slater told The New York Times last month. “It would be my 40th year since I surfed my first contest, when I was 8 years old. To potentially surf at the Olympics when I’m 48, it would be a nice sort of bookend for me.”

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