Mon, 10 June 2019

Who will be in? Spike rolls out the selection road map to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, and the ISA World Surfing Games 2019 and 2020 are a critical part of the puzzle.


BIANCA CAN: Don't discount Bianca Buitendag as a contender at the WSG. Photo WSL / Masurel

Getting into the Olympics is a big deal. Its also a tough ask, and according to the requirements to make the 2020 Games in Tokyo, the toughest ask in history. Consider the qualification time for the men's 100 metres, for instance, which is 10.05 seconds for 2029. In 2016, it was 10.16 seconds. In 2012, it was 10.18. In 2008, it was 10.21. In 2000, it was 10,27 and so on, back in time.

South African sprint sensation Akani Simbane will qualify. He ran a 9.95 at the IAAF Diamond League in Shanghai three weeks ago. But he also qualifies by dint of his ranking, the second and only other selection criteria, because he is 6th in the world on the IAAF list as of 4 June 2019. The IAAF Council announced its approval of the qualification system and entry standards for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo at its meeting in Doha in March.

The qualification standard for surfing was not mentioned. That standard has been for the ISA and IOC and WSL to thrash out. Unlike track and field athletics, surfing relies on rankings, since you can't quantify it in terms of speed, distance or height. Or can you? What about number of 10 point rides? Ratio of barrels to heats surfed? Highest average heat scores? Mmmm. That could be interesting.


FREE SURFING NOW: M-Feb is a great ambassador for the Rainbow Nation. Photo WSL / Cestari

Anyway, the ISA just announced the CT surfers who "have been nominated to represent their National Surfing Teams" at the ISA World Surfing Games (WSG) at Miyazaki, Japan from September 7 to 15, a key milestone in the jouney towards Olympic qualification, although a nigh impossible obstacle if you're a non-CT surfer.

According to the Olympic qualification system, the top 10 eligible men and eight women, with a maximum of two per country, at the end of the 2019 WSL CT season, will qualify for Tokyo 2020. This end-of-year ranking will also be used to determine who gets nominated to be members of their national surfing teams at the 2020 WSG (dates and location still to be announced but they have to be moved forward to accommodate the Olympics, which will be held 24 July – 9 August next year).

I got Robin de Kock of Surfing South Africa (SSA) to clarify the selection process for South Africans. He affirmed that there are two rules for CT surfers and their path to Tokyo. The first is that they must be the highest ranking surfer on the CT (solo in our case). The second requirement is that they must surf in the WSG. CT surfers won't need a result at the WSG. They simply have to rock up.

Smith KELL8831_MRP19_Cestari

ACE UP: Jordy Smith is guaranteed an Olympics spot, if he goes to the WSG. Photo WSL / Cestari

Now that accounts for one member out of six for Team SA at the WSG. What about our legions of non-CT surfers? We still have places for two more men and three women. What a pity that Mikey February's debut on the CT was last year and not this year, but more on that later. More's the pity that Bianca Buitendag is no longer on the CT either. But as SA's highest ranked female (35th on the QS) she should crack the nod.

Anyway, speaking of tough asks, the non-CT qualification route is ruthlessly simple. "To be considered for the Olympics, a non-CT surfer will have to make the final of the World Surfing Games, either in 2019 or 2020. That means you must finish 4th or better in the world at the WSG that year," De Kock said. "The good news is that team members will get two chances!"

Right, okay. But how will our team to the WSG this year be selected? De Kock said: "We use a combination of criteria, from QS rankings to internal results (at SA Champs for instance). We are not beholden to any WSL rankings, or ISA rules. It's an internal decision for us to make. The SSA board has a selection committee who make the decision. The team is then put foward to the SSA board for ratification. Once ratified, it goes to SASCOC to approve."


UP AND COMING: Joshe Faulkner is Photo WSL / Cestari

"This process takes place every time we select a team for international competition," he said, adding that the board had not yet decided which criteria they would use in this unique year for surfing, but it would encompass many elements. That said, a question many South Africans will be asking is: "Will there be a place for Mikey February in the team for the WSG?" while others might be asking: "Does Mikey February deserve a place in the team for WSG?"

You have to think that someone who was on the elite tour less than a year ago is a candidate if the rules allow it, which apparently they do. Beyond the IOC ruling, as ratified in negotiation with the ISA and WSL, that CT surfers must surf in the WSG, each country is free to select their team using their own criteria. Spare a thought for the Hawaiians, who have always been afforded their own cultural identity on the CT, but now get lumped under the umbrella of their colonisers, the US of A.

But part of the challenge facing SSA is about how the selection is perceived by the beady eyes of the critical masses, and what is deemed fair. It will be a delicate balancing act. Mikey is sitting at 168th on the Qualifying Series, with eight South Africans above him on the ranking: Matt McGilivray (36), Dylan Lightfoot (39), Adin Masencamp (42), Beyrick de Vries (66), Jake Elkington (84), Jordy Maree (107), Slade Prestwich (138) and Koby Oberholzer (159).


RING FENCED: Jordy is the solo ou on the world tour, and probably for the Olympics. Photo WSL

You'd feel sorry for someone like Lightfoot if he lost out. These guys have worked hard to be where they are. There is of course the "elephant in the room", although its probably more of a dassie (the closest relative to the elephent) due to protacted and open debate for years - transformation. Like it or not, it is a requirement that any sports team from South Africa is representative.

Fortunately for SSA, there are plenty of talented black youngsters in SA surfing, including Mikey, Tanika Hofman, and Jose Faulkner (just behind February on the QS at #170) to name a few. If his CT experience and his skin colour pushes February up the rankings in the eyes of the SSA, can we honestly complain about that?

The devil you do, the devil you don't. Angry posts will spew forth upon the arbiter of all that is good and bad in the world: social media. It will be rotten luck for some, and an historical moment for others. Let us hope that the SSA chooses wisely. It will be a catch 22, or will it?

Men: Ryan Callinan, Julian Wilson, Owen Wright
Women: Stephanie Gilmore, Sally Fitzgibbons, Nikki Van Dijk
Men: Italo Ferreira, Filipe Toledo, Gabriel Medina
Women: Tatiana Weston-Webb, Silvana Lima
Costa Rica
Women: Brisa Hennessy
Men: Jeremy Flores, Michel Bourez, Joan Duru
Women: Johanne Defay
Men: Leonardo Fioravanti
Men: Kanoa Igarashi
New Zealand
Men: Ricardo Christie
Women: Paige Hareb
South Africa
Men: Jordy Smith
Men: John John Florence, Kolohe Andino, Connor Coffin
Women: Caroline Marks, Carissa Moore, Courtney Conlogue


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