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The Draw and First Round – Surfing at the Tokyo

With just days to go until the first-ever Olympic surfers hit the water at Tsurigasaki Beach, anticipation is beginning to build. The draw has now been confirmed for the event, so we thought it would be a good time to take a look at the matchups in the five-person first-round heats, and who is likely to advance from them. The draw itself takes a little bit of effort to get your head around though, so we’ll start off with a quick refresher on what competitors actually need to do to get onto the podium.

How Does the Draw Work?

Both the men’s and the women’s Olympic surfing events will follow exactly the same draw. The top ten surfers on each side have been seeded based on their finishing position on the 2019 Championship Tour, and these seeds inform who will compete against whom throughout the course of the event.

The first-ever round of Olympic surfing will consist of five heats involving four surfers each for both the men and the women. In each heat, there will be one of the top five seeds, one of the next five seeds, and the remaining two positions will be filled by unseeded surfers. 

The surfers with the top two scores in each heat will leap immediately to Round 3, while the bottom two will head to Round 2 – an elimination round. Round 2 consists of two five-person heats, and the bottom two surfers from each of them will be the first people ever to be eliminated to the Olympics – lucky them!

This will leave us with 16, and it’s at this point that we’ll start seeing head-to-head heats. Surfers will be reseeded prior to this round based largely on their original seeds, ensuring we don’t see any Medina/Toledo matchups just yet. This Round 3 stage is, of course, an elimination stage, as is the rest of the event. Winners advance through to the final eight – the quarterfinals – while losers are knocked out. From there on we continue in the same vein, with one-on-one matchups, into the semi-finals and then the final.  

Here’s who will be competing in each of the ten first round heats.

The Men 

Heat #1

Heat One of the men’s first round involves Italo Ferreira, Leonardo Fioravanti, Hiroto Ohhara and Leandro Usuna. Ferreira should have no problems advancing straight through to Round 3 while Fioravanti will be favoured to join him, but Hiroto Ohhara will have the crowd behind him as well as the local knowledge and is the best chance to spring a surprise as a result. Leandro Usuna will head in as the outsider.

Heat #2

The second heat is the only one in which three regular Championship Tour level surfers will compete for the top two spots. Local hope Kanoa Igarashi and Jeremy Flores are the two who advanced via the CT, while Frederico Morais is the third CT surfer in this heat. Igarashi is the best surfer and the local and so should advance, while Morais and Flores will most likely fight out the second spot. Peruvian Miguel Tudela is the least likely to advance.

Heat #3

Kolohe Andino and Julian Wilson will be the two favoured to advance through to Round 3 from this heat, but Andino has been out for an extended period with injury while Wilson enters with average form and has had a whirlwind few days, having announced that he will leave the WSL tour. Kiwi Billy Stairmand and Peruvian Lucca Mesinas will try to upend the status quo, and while the odds are against them this is certainly a heat in which an upset could occur. 

Heat #4

This isn’t a hugely fun heat for the non-CT surfers in it – they’ll have to beat one of John John Florence or Owen Wilson to advance straight through to Round 3. Manuel Selman finishing in the top two would be a huge surprise, and while the same could be said for Morocco’s Ramzi Boukhiam, his prodigious best could cause a few more headaches. Still, it would be a big surprise to see Florence and Wilson not occupy the top two spots.

Heat #5

The final heat includes Gabriel Medina, Michel Bourez, Leon Glatzer and Rio Waida. Medina should have no troubles advancing, but the next spot could be up for grabs. Bourez should theoretically finish second and is certainly he favourite to do so, but Waida, in particular, has a whole lot of talent and if he can cope with the Olympic pressure, could be a sneaky chance of finishing in the top two.

The Women

Heat #1

Carissa Moore is the standout surfer in this heat, which also includes Portugal’s Teresa Bonvalot, Peru’s Daniella Rosas and Ecuador’s Dominic Barona. It’s hard to imagine Moore not finishing at least in the top two and most likely on top, leaving the other three to fight it out for the other top two position. Each of them would likely struggle to advance to Round 3 were there two CT surfers in this heat so in a sense they are lucky despite drawing Moore. It’s something of a toss of a three-sided coin which of them will advance, but the 19-year-old Rosas might be the best chance.

Heat #2

Sally Fitzgibbons shouldn’t have an issue beating at least two of Brisa Hennessey, Mahina Maeda and Bianca Buitendag to advance to Round 3 here. Maeda will have the home crowd support behind her while Hennessey is the most experienced of that trio at the top level, but South African Buitendag is capable of grabbing that coveted second spot if she can recapture something like the form she showed earlier in her career.

Heat #3

Steph Gilmore is the best surfer in this heat by a margin while Brazil’s Silvana Lima is the other CT-level surfer, and those two should be good enough to take the top two spots.  Israel’s Anat Leilor and France’s Pauline Ado round out the quartet, both of whom are among the least likely to spring a surprise in Tokyo.

Heat #4

This is one of the most interesting heats at the Olympics. Tatiana Weston-Webb and Johanne Defay are the top two rated surfers in it, but their competition isn’t likely to roll over without a fight. Japan’s Amuro Suzuki is a talented young surfer familiar with the waves, while former world champion Sofia Mulanovich is the final surfer in the heat. The Peruvian superstar is now pushing 40 and a long way past her best, but she was a fantastic surfer in her day and is a more intimidating prospect than Weston-Webb and Defay would have hoped to meet in the first round.

Heat #5

The final heat includes Caroline Marks, Yolanda Hopkins, Leilani McGonagle and Ella Williams. Marks is the clear class surfer in the heat, but she has been erratic in the CT this year and could just as easily falter as she could blow them away. Of the others, Portugal’s Hopkins is a continually improving surfer and could be the best chance to finish in the top two, but this heat could pan out in a number of ways. 

Once Round 1 wraps up, surfers will be reseeded based on a combination of their original seeds and results in that round, so there’s no way to know as yet who will face whom in the latter stages of the event. The way the seedings work, however, the one thing that we can be sure of is that the Championship Tour surfers won’t be facing each other until the final eight, with a couple of potential exceptions on the men’s side of things, where ten surfers advanced through the CT tour. 

And once we do hit that quarter-final stage, the Tokyo 2020 surfing event will closely resemble a stop on the CT tour. It will be one-on-one surfing until the finish line with the majority of surfers most likely regulars at the top level, and the only notable difference will be that, instead of it being world rankings points at stake, it’s an Olympic medal. 



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