June 24 (Reuters) - Five surfers to watch out for at the Tokyo Olympics:
GABRIEL MEDINA (BRAZIL)
The Brazilian’s high-flying acrobatic approach has made him one of the most popular surfers on the circuit and he is the runaway leader at the top of the men’s Championship Tour standings, over 8,000 points ahead of compatriot Italo Ferreira.
JOHN JOHN FLORENCE (UNITED STATES)
The 28-year-old Hawaiian faces a race against time to be fit for Tokyo following an operation for an unspecified knee injury in May, but if he can make it he should be among the top draws as surfing makes its Olympic debut.
Introduced to the sport by his mother as a baby, Florence was said to have been able to surf by himself at the age of five and he has gone on to become hugely successful in the professional ranks, winning back-to-back World Surfing League titles in 2016 and 2017.
CARISSA MOORE (UNITED STATES)
Having already had January 4 declared “Carissa Moore Day” in her home state of Hawaii, the 28-year-old is already ranked as one of surfing’s all-time greats.
She racked up 11 amateur national championships before turning professional and starting a tremendous rivalry with Australia’s Stephanie Gilmore that yielded four world championship wins.
Back to her best form, she’s top of the women’s rankings and one of the hot favourites for the gold medal in Tokyo.
STEPHANIE GILMORE (AUSTRALIA)
A seven-time world champion, Gilmore will be looking to add Olympic gold to crown a glittering career.
The Australian burst onto the scene in 2007 as the first athlete to win the world championship in her rookie year and she went on to dominate, winning four straight world titles.
Now aged 33, she is still in the top 10 in women’s surfing with a wealth of experience to draw on when the Games begin.
KANOA IGARASHI (JAPAN)
Japan’s hopes of a medal in surfing will be pinned on Igarashi, who has arguably been groomed for this task since the day he was born.
On discovering that she was pregnant with him, his mother Misa and father Tsutomu, a surfing fanatic, gave up their jobs in Tokyo and moved to Huntington Beach in California to give their son the best possible shot at a surfing career.
Though he holds dual citizenship, Igarashi proudly represents Japan, where he has become a household name. (Reporting by Philip O’Connor, editing by Pritha Sarkar)