John Florence Can Still Qualify For The Olympics, And That’s Exactly What He Plans To Do
Let’s look at the math.
After winning two of the first four events on this year’s Championship Tour, John Florence sustained an ACL tear on the same knee he injured in 2018.
With the ligament fully torn this time around, Florence was forced to undergo surgery, which promised to keep him out of the water for 6-12 months. The injury happened in June; that meant his earliest possible return to competition would be in December—just in time for the last event of the year, the Pipeline Masters.
Despite missing the most recent CT event at Jeffrey’s Bay, Florence remains in third place overall with 32,425 points (less than 1,500 points behind the current leader, Kolohe Andino). Because he will likely miss the remainder of the events this season, barring perhaps Pipeline, Florence will not be able to win the World Title in 2019. He will, however, requalify for the 2020 season without needing to use an injury wildcard (last year’s lowest re-qualifier did so with just 21,000 points), and he still has a legitimate shot at earning an Olympic slot for Tokyo 2020—a goal he very much hopes to achieve.
In a recent interview with ESPN, Florence offered the following exchange:
ESPN: How much did the Olympic qualifying weigh on that decision [to get surgery]?
JJF: Luckily enough, I had a lot of points from doing well in the beginning of the season, so I still have a good shot at qualifying through the tour for the Olympics — and that is my dream. It would be so awesome to go to the Olympics. But I don’t have much control over that right now. I have to sit back and see what Kelly [Slater] can do.
ESPN: You recently posted a video on Instagram showing you back in the water, prone paddling, with the hashtag #Tokyo2020, and it caused a lot of excitement. Why the hashtag?
JJF: I thought it was a fun one. And there is a lot of truth in it. It is still a goal of mine to qualify for the Olympics, and I wanted to let people know I am working toward that. It is my goal to get better for Pipeline in case I have to come back and compete and gain points. That is a short-term goal. And if Kelly doesn’t gain enough points the rest of the year, it is a long-term goal to be 150 percent ready at the start of the next WCT season and have ample time to train for the Olympics next year.
ESPN: Do you think it was a coincidence that the day after your Instagram post, Kelly confirmed he will surf for Team USA in the ISA World Surfing Games in September in Japan, a prerequisite for the Olympics, and make himself eligible for the 2020 Games?
JJF: I know [Kelly] wants to be a part of the Olympics, for sure, and I also know he loves little things like that. ‘No, I’m going to catch him!’ I’m sure he’s looking closely at those points and is going to be making a point to catch me and beat me.
ESPN: So you didn’t believe what he said in an interview recently — that he isn’t focused on the Olympics and isn’t sure he’s going to compete at the World Surfing Games?
JJF: [Laughs] I don’t believe anything Kelly says about competing.
ESPN: How will you make the decision to return to the tour this season?
JJF: It’s all going to come down to that moment before Pipeline and how Kelly has done, how other Americans have done and whether it is worth it for me to compete. There is a chance my knee feels great by the time Pipe comes around, and I am definitely open to surfing Pipeline to secure my spot in the Olympics. If it comes down to Pipe and my knee is not feeling great, I would have to reevaluate. But there’s a good chance it will be feeling great based on how good I feel now.
So, what would it take for John to qualify for the Olympics? A quick refresher:
Per the Olympic rules, only two surfers per gender, per nation can compete in the surfing event. The first priority for those slots goes through the Championship Tour, meaning, if a surfer places within the top 10 of the Men’s CT at the end of the 2019 season, and there are not two or more countrymates ahead of him, that surfer will be eligible to compete in Tokyo 2020.
Currently, Kolohe Andino (CT #1) and John Florence (#3) would take those honors. But as John is unable to compete in at least four of the remaining five CT events, there’s a huge opportunity for other American surfers to surpass him in the rankings. Those surfers include Kelly Slater, who is currently ranked #8 with 21,055 points; Conner Coffin, who is ranked #12 with 17,365 points; Seth Moniz, who is ranked #14 with 16,800 points; plus a few others longshots.
How difficult will it be for these surfers to surpass Florence’s 33,220 points*?
For reference, Owen Wright finished #6 on the 2018 Championship Tour with 35,570 points (the next highest was Conner Coffin with 32,715 points). That’s higher than any of the other Americans on Tour are currently ranked, which lends credence to the notion that Florence could retain his position as the second-highest rated American come season’s end, even if he doesn’t compete in Pipe.
However, assuming Florence’s knee is stable by December, even if someone does surpass his 33,220 points, John can increase his end-of-season total to as high as 43,485 points by winning the Pipe Masters (a feat Florence has yet to achieve in his career, but that doesn’t make it any less likely).
Considering the numbers above, one could make that argument that Florence is actually more likely than not to earn a slot in Tokyo 2020. However, historical data has a limited effect on Kelly Slater—the man who won 11 World Titles in a sport that is dictated by the most uncontrollable force in nature.
So we doubt John is sharpening his chopsticks just yet.
*Florence will receive 265 points for every event he misses due to injury. Assuming he misses the final five events of the 2019 season, and taking out the two dropped events each surfer gets, this will be his end-of-year total.
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