By Martin (Marty) Olsen
100 years ago, Duke Kahanamoku dreamt of surfing in the Olympic Games. He was a five-time Olympic medallist for swimming, but in between Olympic competitions and after his retirement, Kahanamoku, a Native Hawaiian and the “father of modern surfing,” travelled internationally to popularize the sport of surfing. Back in the early 1900s, it was known only to Hawaii, which had yet to even become a US state.
Kahanamoku would be proud to know that in 2016, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) unanimously decided to include surfing in the Olympic Games for the first time. Surfing will debut at the 2020 Olympic Games in Japan.
How do athletes qualify to surf at the 2020 Olympics?
Firstly, athletes must comply with the current Olympic Charter, the document that sets forth rules and guidelines for Olympic athletes and the Olympic Games.
It’s a hefty 103-page file that includes rules such as the “citizenship requirement rule” (Rule 41) that states athletes must be a “national” of the country they represent in competition. And, of course, Rule 43, which details the World Anti-Doping Code and the Olympic Movement Code on the Prevention of Manipulation of Competitions.
A total of 40 surfers (20 men and 20 women) will qualify for surfing at the 2020 Olympics. A maximum of four surfers (2 men and 2 women) can compete from each country’s National Olympic Committee — the governing body in each country that regulates athlete participation in the Olympics.
Athletes will qualify for the Olympics if they meet performance qualification criteria at one of the following events:
- 2019 World Surf League (WSL) Championship Tour (CT): 10 men and eight women
- 2019 ISA World Surfing Games: Four men and four women
- 2020 ISA World Surfing Games: Four men and six women
Continental representation: With the exception of North and South America, the highest-placed eligible athlete from each continent at the 2019 ISA World Surfing Games (someone who didn’t yet qualify) gains one spot. For the Americas, continental representation comes from the highest-placed eligible athlete (who hasn’t already qualified through other events) at the 2019 Pan American Games.
Host nation slot: The Olympic Games guarantees one male and one female place for the host nation, in this case Japan. If athletes from Japan qualify regularly (through one of the events above), the host nation slots will be reallocated to the highest-ranked eligible surfers from the 2020 World Surfing Games.
In Olympic competition, the format will progress through initial and main rounds which eventually lead to gold medal and bronze medal matches. The initial rounds will have four and five-person heats, and the main rounds will have two-person heats where the winner advances to the next round and the loser is eliminated.
The length of a heat is normally 30 minutes and is decided by the Technical Director depending on the conditions of the day. In this time, each athlete will be allowed to ride a maximum of 25 waves, and their two highest scoring waves will count towards their heat total which creates their heat result.
The Olympic surfing venue for the 2020 Olympics in Japan will be at Tsurigasaki Beach, Torami, Choseigun Ichinomiyamachi, Chiba, located just east of Tokyo.
The Aussie Olympic Team (pending final Olympic selection) will consist of:
Head Coach, Bede Durbidge
- Ryan Callinan
- Owen Wright
- Julian Wilson
- Stephanie Gilmore
- Sally Fitzgibbons
- Nikki Van Dijk
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