ICHINOMIYA: Kolohe Andino ousted fellow American John John Florence in the third round of the surfing competition at the Tokyo Olympics yesterday, as Australia’s Stephanie Gilmore suffered a shock exit in the women’s event. The heavyweight US pair were forced into an early showdown after Florence failed to qualify from his first-round heat and had to advance through the repechage. But Andino set the tone with a massive aerial maneuver as soon as the contest got under way, leaving two-time world champion Florence with too much work to do.
“I was paddling into that wave going, ‘what am I doing? This wave looks terrible’,” Andino said of his gargantuan first effort, which scored 8.50 from the judges. “It’s nice that the judges rewarded it. John and I, our best surfing is aerial surfing, so it was going to be an air show no matter what.” Andino and Florence both underwent surgery just weeks before the Games, with Andino recovering from an ankle injury and Florence coming back from a hurt knee. Surfing legend Kelly Slater — who has 11 world titles — was on standby to replace either one of them on the US team.
Florence, who said he felt “pretty close to normal” this week, accepted defeat with good grace. “I’d rather see each other go further, but that’s what happens,” he said. “You come to these events to surf against the best in the world, so I’m not bummed that we came up against each other. That’s the challenge of being here.”
In the women’s competition, Australia’s Stephanie Gilmore, who has seven world titles to her name, admitted she had been “too picky” after making an early exit. Gilmore was bundled out in the third round by unheralded South African Bianca Buitendag — seeded 17 out of 20 surfers.
Buitendag took the lead at Tsurigasaki Beach by jumping on the first big wave of the contest, and Gilmore was left to rue her decision to let her have it. “I looked at that wave and I thought, ‘it doesn’t look that good’, so I let her have it and she turned it into a seven. That was the most frustrating thing for me,” said Gilmore, one of the favorites for the gold medal. “There were a lot of waves but maybe not a lot of good ones. But in saying that, I probably got too picky.”
Gilmore was joined in an early exit by French world number two Johanne Defay, who lost to Portugal’s Yolanda Hopkins. The two giant-killings opened up the field for American world number one Carissa Moore, who safely came through her contest against Peru’s Sofia Mulanovich. “It was crazy to see some of the top seeds bow out early this morning,” said Moore. “It just goes to show that these conditions are very tricky.”
But Gilmore was left with nothing but regrets after failing in her bid to add the Olympic gold medal to her bulging collection of world titles. Buitendag, who needed to come through the repechage second round to reach the head-to-head knockout stage, was happy to throw caution to the wind. “I had nothing to lose, absolutely no pressure,” said the 1.85-metre (six feet) South African. “I’m the underdog, coming in as the 17th seed for this event. So it was a really comfortable spot to be in. It takes away all the nerves and pressure. It just seemed to go my way.” – AFP