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Big Stakes On The Line For New Olympic Sports Surfing And Climbing This Week

By Chrös McDougall | Nov. 26, 2019, 12:01 a.m. (ET)


The Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 run July 24-Aug. 9, 2020, with the Paralympic Games following Aug. 25-Sept. 6, and while they may be months away there’s a lot to learn on your quest to becoming the ultimate fan. Each Tuesday leading up to the Games, TeamUSA.org will present a nugget you should read about – from athletes to watch to storylines to follow to Japanese culture and landmarks – as part of “Tokyo 2020 Tuesday.” Follow along on social media with the hashtag #Tokyo2020Tuesday.


The stakes for three American women could hardly be higher at this week’s Maui Pro surfing tournament.

By the time surfing concludes at Honolua Bay in Maui, Hawaii, Carissa Moore, Lakey Peterson or Caroline Marks will be crowned world champion, while two of them will secure berths to compete in their sport’s Olympic debut next summer.

The three U.S. surfers enter the final event of the World Surf League’s Women’s Championship Tour this week ranked 1-2-3 in the standings. A strong performance will clinch the world title for one of them, while the top eight finishers (up to two per country) on the WSL women’s tour earn a berth to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.

Both surfing and climbing, which also makes its Olympic debut in 2020, could have U.S. Olympic qualifiers in the coming days. Surfing, with its flexible schedule designed to ensure optimal wave conditions, will wrap up at some point between now and Dec. 6. Climbing will host the IFSC Combined Qualifier from Thursday to Sunday in Toulouse, France.

For climbing, which in Tokyo will use a format that combines the three disciples of bouldering, lead and speed climbing, the 22 highest ranked athletes per gender who have not yet qualified for the Olympic Games will compete for six men’s quotas and six women’s quotas in Toulouse.

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(L) Margo Hayes competes at the IFSC World Cup on June 2, 2018 in Tokyo; (R) Caroline Marks competes at the 2019 Freshwater Pro on Sept. 21, 2019 in Lemoore, Calif. 


Kyra Condie, Ashima Shiraishi, Margo Hayes, Nathaniel Coleman and Sean Bailey qualified for the Toulouse event based on their world cup ranking, and they’ll be aiming to join fellow American Brooke Raboutou, who previously qualified for Tokyo based on her performance at the world championships. Like surfing, up to two men and two women per country can qualify.

The new sports are expected to bring fresh, youthful vibes into the Games.

In Olympic surfing, athletes will compete in timed heats, followed by head-to-head elimination rounds, with surfers’ two highest-scoring waves being counted in each heat. The competition will be held at Tsurigasaki Beach, which is roughly 60 miles southeast of Tokyo on the Pacific Ocean.

Moore, who competes under the Hawaiian flag in the WSL but would be part of Team USA at the Games, is the defending Maui Pro champion and as the top-ranked surfer going in is the favorite to win her fourth world title. Peterson, last year’s CT runner-up, is not far behind Moore as she chases her first world title, but 17-year-old Marks is right on her heels.

However, only two can qualify for the Tokyo Games, where they’d join Kolohe Andino, who had previously qualified on the men’s side. A second U.S. man can still qualify, with two-time world champion John John Florence of Hawaii and the iconic 47-year-old Kelly Slater, an 11-time world champion, among the leading contenders.

Sport climbing is perhaps less predictable, as most athletes focus on just one discipline, making the combined event somewhat untested.

In the Olympics, climbers will compete in bouldering, which involves a 4-meter wall without a rope; speed, in which they must scale a standardized 15-meter wall as fast as possible; and lead, a technical challenge in which they must climb as far as possible in six minutes.

Here’s an overview of the disciplines.

Condie is the top-ranked American at No. 15 going into Toulouse, while Shiraishi is 19th and Hayes 26th. On the men’s side, Coleman and Bailey are ranked 24th and 25th.

American climbers will have one final opportunity, next year in Los Angeles, to punch their ticket to Tokyo should the team not be filled this week in Toulouse.

Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic and Paralympic movement for TeamUSA.org since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.