Unlike many Olympic sports, there are no team medals available when surfing makes its debut in Tokyo, yet 16 nations will be sending surfers to Japan. So, which flags could bring the most heat to the Games? Here we investigate:
When the selections for Team USA were finalized after the completion of the CT in 2019, its strength could be measured by the surfers who missed out. Any team that could afford not to take the greatest surfer of all time Kelly Slater and the World No. 3 Lakey Peterson were obviously in a very strong position.
In the men's with John John Florence and Kolohe Andino, they had the two best American surfers of their generation, peaking at the ideal stage in their careers. However, serious injuries to Andino's ankle and Florence's knee means it is almost impossible to assess their form, let alone medal prospects. Andino will only get back to riding his normal equipment just days before he flies to Tokyo. Florence's rehab is also unclear. While Slater stands ready and waiting in the wings, the pair have committed 100-percent, but their medal chances have dropped considerably.
The women, however, are a different story. Carissa Moore has been untouchable in 2021, surfing even better than her last World Title winning year in 2019. She has a lead of almost 10,000 points on the WSL Leaderboard and enters the Olympics as the out-and-out favorite. Caroline Marks has, by her standards, been less impressive this year, but the 19-year-old beat all comers at Narrabeen, and has to be a podium favorite. If Team USA is going to bring the heat, it will be Marks and Moore that need to fire on all cylinders.
Team France comes into the Olympics packed with experience. For the men, Jeremy Flores and Michel Bourez are 33 and 35 years old, respectively. Both came on the CT in 2007. While they will be fiery and focused, it is the Chiba beachbreaks, rather than age, that might be the biggest obstacle to medals for the hard-charging, Tahitian-residing pair.
For the women, former CT surfer Pauline Ado secured her spot at the ISA Games in El Salvador. An incredible competitor with a decade of elite experience, she is an underdog. The Tricolor's best medal hopes rest on the current World No. 2 Johanne Defay. Fresh off a win at the Surf Ranch she comes into the Olympics in the best form of her career and has to be considered a major threat for Gold.
Labeled the Irikandjis, few teams can boast the depth of experience and talent that Julian Wilson, Owen Wright, Stephanie Gilmore, and Sally Fitzgibbons will bring to Tokyo. Wilson and Wright have been Australia's most consistent performers after the retirement of Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson. A concern might be that their 2021 form has been below their career average par, but you sense their true focus has been on Tokyo. They'll need to quickly go through the gears to challenge the Brazilians.
By adding a gold medal to her seven World Titles, Gilmore has the chance to become a true Australian sporting icon. And you'd give her a good a shot as anyone to make history. Fitzgibbons has never won a World Title, finishing second on four occasions, but the sports nut would probably be happy with that if it meant winning gold for Australia. Her 2021 form has been as good as any year since she started in 2007, and no one wants this more.
The Olympic selection criteria, which only permits two surfers per country per gender, has probably hurt the Brazilians more than most. It meant that Filipe Toledo, who finished as the World No. 3 in 2019 (a ranking he holds now) and is recognized as the best beachbreak surfer the world has ever produced, won't be surfing the Chiba beachbreaks.
However, with Gabriel Medina andItalo Ferreira, Team Brazil head to the Olympics with the sport's heaviest hitters. Medina has been almost unstoppable in 2021, and the only surfer that has come close to him is the 2019 World Champion. Brazil won just seven gold medals at their home Olympics in Rio in 2016, and so a gold medal here will make the winner a household name. It's hard to see how one of these two won't be that.
Their collective strength has been boosted by Tatiana Weston-Webb choosing to represent Brazil in 2018. Born in Brazil to a Brazilian mother and English father, but raised in Hawaii, the current World No. 4 is the likeliest threat to the USA/Australia axis. Lastly, veteran Silvana Lima is lethal in beachbreaks and has a desire to win at all costs. A medal for her, while a long shot, would be life-changing.
Rest Of The World
The host Japan's chances will mainly rest on Kanoa Igarashi's broad shoulders. How he handles the added pressure of being a nation's best hope could determine his medal hopes. However, with a full contingent of Hiroto Ohhara, Amuro Tsuzuki and Maheena Maheeda, local knowledge could deliver a surprise medal haul.
Peru also has a surprise full complement of four surfers though Miguel Tudela, Lucca Mesinas, Daniella Rosas and the 2004 World Champion Sofía Mulánovich may lack the (recent) CT experience to do any lasting damage.