"That Round of 32 is so important to get through," Kelly Slater said after his win over Owen Wright in the Corona Bali Protected. "It's a big result for improving my seed and also for getting in the running for the Olympics. That remains a huge goal."
It seems Kelly Slater might be the only one saying what every other CT surfer is thinking. The 11x World Champ has been one of the few surfers that has been vocal about their focus in competing at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020
At the start of the CT season, with Slater granted a Wildcard due to a long injury absence and seeded No. 34, that goal looked a little far fetched. The WSL will qualify the first ten men and eight women for the Games, with selection based on the 2019 final CT rankings.
Only two surfers per gender can represent any one country. That means Slater is currently battling John Florence, Kolohe Andino, Conner Coffin, Sebastian Zietz, Zeke Lau and Seth Moniz for one of the two spots on Team USA.
However, after his Quarterfinal finish at Bells and a third place at Keramas the 47-year-old has very much muscled into contention.
As it stands now, Jeep Leader John Florence and World No. 5 Kolohe Andino would be selected for Tokyo, but Kelly has moved up to World No. 9 just behind Conner Coffin. With four USA surfers currently in the top 10, you sense the battle for Olympic Qualification for the Stars and Stripes will be among the hardest fought.
Elsewhere, defending World Champ Gabriel Medina stands out as the highest profile surfer who currently would be missing out on his Olympic dream. He has slipped to World No. 10, with Italo Ferreira and Filipe Toledo opening up a 5000 rating point gap on their friend and rival. Now three was never going to go into two, but Medina not making the team for Tokyo would still be massive news, especially back in Brazil.
The French selection process is another three-way race. Only a maximum two of Jeremy Flores, Michel Bourez and Joan Duru can fly the Tricolor in Tokyo and it is Flores who has stolen the march over his compatriots and CT traveling companions. If the team were to be chosen now, Bourez would also sneak in as the 10th and last CT qualifier.
He would be joined by Bali winner Kanoa Igarashi, the World No. 2, who is guaranteed a host nation place either way and World No. 6 Jordy Smith. That leaves just two spots for the Aussies, with Wade Carmichael and Ryan Callinan currently holding the qualifying spots.
Julian Wilson and Adrian Buchan, probably the two who have been the most vocal about their hopes of representing Australia, have plenty of work to do. For Wilson, currently languishing as the World No. 19, the Olympic selection might be the only hope to salvage a season that due to a poor start, has seen his World Title hopes almost evaporated.
If the selection were to be made after Bali, the 10 male CT surfers traveling to Tokyo would be Florence, Igarashi, Toledo, Ferreira, Andino, Smith, Flores, Carmichael, Callinan and Bourez.
The biggest names missing from that list include 3x World Champion Carissa Moore and last year's runner-up Lakey Peterson. They too are currently the victims of Team USA's depth of talent. When you include Malia Manuel, half of the top 10 female CT surfers are currently American. The squeeze for those top two places will only get tighter as the year goes on.
There is also fierce competition for the two Australian places. While Gilmore looks safe at the top, Corona Bali Protected Semifinalist Nikki Van Dijkand Bronte Macaulay will be pushing the veteran Fitzgibbons all the way.
Brazilian Silvana Lima made a sizzling return from injury in Bali and she will now also be pushing for one of the top eight spots. Meanwhile the sole Kiwi on the CT, Paige Hareb, whilst way down the list as World No. 16 only has to gain a few ranking spots to push her, and her New Zealand, cause.
Now of course each CT surfer has their own goals; be that a World Title, an event win or simply the fight to ensure they stay on the elite Tour for 2020. Yet with surfing's debut at the Olympic Games now just over 12 months away, the race to be selected for those 18 CT spots is sharpening into focus.
Kelly Slater might be on of the few verbalizing it at the moment, but it is very much at the front of mind for surfers gearing up for the Margaret River Pro. One big result could mean their Olympic Dream is suddenly within their grasp.