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Tokyo 2020 Surfing – Men’s Round-by-Round Wash-Up

The waves might not quite have been up to the level that we’re accustomed to seeing on the Championship Tour, but as it so often does, quality prevailed in both the men’s and women’s versions of the Tokyo 2020 surfing event. Italo Ferreira denied what would have been a fairytale result for the locals by beating Kanoa Igarashi in the men’s gold medal match, while Owen Wright upset Gabriel Medina to claim the bronze. This is how the men’s event went down.  

Round 1

With two Championship Tour surfers competing in each of the five Round 1 heats, and the top two surfers in each heat advancing directly through to Round 3, the results seemed like something of a foregone conclusion. Alas, in four of the five heats, one of those Championship Tour surfers was felled by a less fancied rival. All of Leonardo Fioravanti, Jérémy Florès, Julian Wilson and, most surprisingly of all, John John Florence, failed to finish in the top two and were sent to the second round instead, where they faced the undesirable prospect of being among the first ever surfers ever eliminated from the Games.

Local Hiroto Ohhara, Peru’s Miguel Toleda and Lucca Mesinas, and Morocco’s Ramzi Boukhaim were responsible for these upsets, all of them putting together solid two-wave totals in the range of 10.23-11.4. Upsets aside, the majority of the big names did still advance straight to Round 3; Michel Bourez, Owen Wright, Kolohe Andino and Kanoa Igarashi all finished in the top two of their heats, while unsurprisingly, Medina and Ferreira finished with the highest scores of the round.

Round 2

The first elimination round in Games history could easily have thrown up some shock results, with a number of stars being shoved into it by impressive performances from non-CT qualifiers – but it didn’t. John John Florence was in the first five-man elimination heat, from which the bottom two were eliminated, and he promptly went and top scored to make his way to the third round. Chile’s Manuel Selman could only manage a 9.74 and was eliminated as a result, while Chile’s Carlos Muńoz, who was given a last-second call-up after Frederico Morais tested positive to COVID just a few days prior to the event, was also technically eliminated after his round-the-world mission to make it to Japan in time was unsuccessful.

All five surfers in the second heat would have been justified in being frustrated at the quality of their heat. German Leon Glatzer and Argentina’s Leandro Usuna each had to beat at least one of Fioravanti, Florès and Wilson to advance. Unsurprisingly they did not, and were booted from the event faster than you can say Tsurigasaki.

Round 3

Round 3 saw the head-to-head heats begin, and a number of Championship Tour surfers face off against one another. One such example came in the second heat of the round in which John John and Andino matched up, and Kolohe sent his Hawaiian counterpart – who was one of the favourites to win the event – packing with a big score of 14.83. Medina also beat Wilson despite a solid score of 13.00 from the Aussie, while better news came for Australia in the final heat of the round when Owen Wright scored what was the biggest score of the event to that point en route to a victory against Florès.

The rest of the heats saw CT surfers compete against lesser-fancied opponents, and all but one of them managed to get the job done as expected. Igarashi, Michel Bourez and Ferreira all won, but Fioravanti put in a thoroughly forgettable performance against Lucca Mesinas, who advanced through to the quarterfinals. The Peruvian became the second non-CT surfer to qualify for the final eight, after Ohhara defeated Tuleda in the heat prior.

Quarterfinals

Winners of the quarterfinals, of course, advanced through to the final four, meaning all things being equal those winners had a 75% chance of claiming a much-coveted medal from Tokyo. Somewhat poetically, the first to advance was Kanoa Igarashi, surfing the very break at which his father became one of the pioneers of surfing in Japan. The next two quarters saw the Brazilians stamp their authority on the competition; Medina got rid of Bourez in a high-scoring heat courtesy of a 15.33 total which included a 9-point individual ride, while Ferreira managed to go even higher, with a 9.73 single wave score helping him to a total of 16.3. Owen Wright was the final surfer to advance to the final four in a lower-scoring heat, beating out Mesinas in what had been a gallant performance at the contest by the Peruvian.

Semi-finals

The two Brazilians clearly looked like the two to beat heading into the semis, and Medina looked likely to confirm that throughout much of the first of them by putting together two scores well in excess of 8 to finish with a total of 16.76. Unfortunately for him, Igarashi landed a huge air with just a couple of minutes to go which was rewarded with a 9.33 by the judges, taking him to a winning total of 17.00. The Japanese dream was still alive.

Joining him in the final would be the winner of Ferreira vs Wright, a heat which matched its predecessor for tension but not so much for quality. Both competitors surfed similar heats, putting together multiple scores between 6 and 7, but each of Ferreira’s top scores just edged out both of Wright’s, and the pocket rocket ended up a 13.17-12.47 winner.

The Bronze Medal Match

Medina headed in as the red-hot favourite to take out the bronze medal – not that he would have been happy with anything but the gold. And fair enough too, given how well he had been surfing. The air game which had served him so well throughout the event deserted him in the stormy conditions though, and his final score of 11.77 – his lowest of the contest – fell just short of Owen Wright’s 11.97. The glee written all over the face of the lanky Australian made me wonder – who is happier in this situation? The surfer who loses the gold medal match to win silver, or the one who wins the bronze medal match to take bronze? 

The Gold Medal Match

The aforementioned loser was determined immediately after Wright’s triumph, and for the few locals who managed to sneak in a bit of viewing, Ferreira being that loser was clearly the desired result against their local hope in Igarashi. But with the conditions deteriorating by the minute, he couldn’t manage a single score in excess of 3.83 and ended on a two-wave total of just 6.6. Ferreira’s ability to make something out of nothing came to the fore, and he managed two single waves which scored more than Igarashi’s combined total to run out an easy winner.

Many, if not most, surfing pundits would have backed either Medina or Ferreira to leave Tokyo with a gold medal around their neck, so the result was far from a surprise. And given the compact Brazilian top scored in Rounds 1 and the quarterfinals, and had the third top score in Round 3, few could argue that he wasn’t a worthy winner.  

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