By Lincoln Feast
(Reuters) – Powerhouse Brazil showed just what a threat it will be at surfing’s Olympic debut in Tokyo next year, claiming gold and bronze in the men’s division and silver in the women’s to win top overall team honours at a qualifying competition in Japan.
Less than a year out from the Games, Italo Ferreira capped a dominant performance with a perfect 10-point ride to win the International Surfing Association’s World Surfing Games in Miyazaki.
He beat Team USA captain Kolohe Andino, fellow Brazilian Gabriel Medina and local hero Shun Murakami in Sunday’s final.
Earlier, veteran Brazilian Silvana Lima took silver in the women’s event behind Peru’s Sofia Mulanovich. South Africa’s Bianca Buitendag was third, while American Carissa Moore was fourth.
Team USA finished second in the overall rankings behind Brazil, with host nation Japan claiming a creditable bronze.
Ferreira almost missed the competition after having his passport and other belongings stolen in the United States.
He arrived at Kisakihama Beach last week with his opening heat already half done. He borrowed a board before paddling out in his jean shorts and winning the heat.
“That was a super cool contest,” Ferreira said after the final. “I want to congratulate every surfer and country here.
“I am so tired, that was a lot of heats with a lot of emotional moments. I just tried to show my best surfing.”
Ferreira’s radical surfing, mixing powerful turns with technical modern aerials, saw him score the highest total in the competition in the final, 17.77 points out of a possible 20, including his perfect 10 for a huge backside spin that he barely held onto with his toenails.
Under surfing’s complicated qualification system, Ferreira and many other top competitors in the professional World Surfing League (WSL) will still need to finish this year’s World Championship Tour (WCT) ranked among the top two from their countries to make it to Tokyo.
Only 20 men and 20 women will qualify, with a maximum of two men and two women from each country.
The 2019 WCT will determine the top 10 men and eight women, with the remainder coming from the 2019 and 2020 ISA World Surfing Games, the 2019 Pan American Games and slots for one man and one woman from hosts Japan.
Provisional qualifiers for Tokyo 2020 from the 2019 ISA World Surfing Games are Japan’s Murakami, Ramzi Boukhiam from Morocco, New Zealand’s Billy Stairmand and Frederico Morais from Portugal.
Women’s provisional qualifiers are Shina Matsuda from Japan, Anat Lelior from Israel, South Africa’s Buitendag and New Zealander Ella Williams.
Kelly Slater, the dominant figure in world surfing for the past three decades, remains in contention for an Olympics berth.
Currently the fourth-ranked American on the WCT with four events remaining, the 47-year-old Floridian showed his skill and stamina in the stormy, over-head surf at Kisakihama Beach, making it through to the penultimate round to finish fifth.
“It was really fun and great meeting all the countries from around the world here,” said Slater. “With all the camaraderie between the teams, this is one of the more fun events that you can surf in.”
(Reporting by Lincoln Feast in SYDNEY; Editing by Ian Ransom)