Surfing | The legend Kelly Slater, absent from the Paris Games

(Paris) In difficulty on the elite circuit, absent from the major qualifying events and caught up by his age, surfing legend Kelly Slater will not have succeeded in qualifying for the Paris Games, a failure which could sound the death knell of his immense career.

Already in Tokyo, in 2021, the first major Olympic surfing festival took place without the man who wrote the most beautiful pages of his discipline. But the 52-year-old Floridian, legend of his sport, then planned to be able to make up for it in 2024 in Polynesia…

“If I manage to qualify for the (2024) Games, I will retire there,” he announced to the British daily The Guardian in February 2023.

In the meantime, physical problems have accumulated for the “King”, 11 times world champion, the youngest – at 20 years old in 1992 – and the oldest in history – at 39 years old in 2011 – and the holder of 55 competition victories, a record.

Having struggled with her hip for several years, Kelly Slater finished 23e of the Championship Tour 2023, the elite circuit, far from the first ten qualifying places for the next Olympics.

The 9e United States’ place at the World Team Championships last month in Puerto Rico, which granted a non-nominative quota to the titled nation, and where he was absent, definitively extinguished the Olympic hopes of the veteran, supplanted by John John Florence and Griffin Colapinto .

“Boss of Teahupo’o”

“Age is catching up with him a little,” says his former opponent on the pro tour Jérémy Florès, now coach of the Blues. “It’s never easy being the king. He cannot excel as he wants, because he has physical problems.”

“I would have loved him to be there with us at the Games for everything he brought to our sport,” regrets Florès, residing in Tahiti. “And the craziest thing about all of this is that he could have won, because he is one of the bosses of Teahupo’o,” he believes.


Kelly Slater

At the top of his sport for more than 30 years, Slater displays in 2024 an athletic and technical deficit compared to the younger generation, capable of performing “airs”, these impressive jumps above the water, in small and average conditions.

But on a spot like Teahupo’o, known for its steep and challenging waves, he had all the cards in hand to shine. “He no longer has the same reactivity as before, but, in a tube, he is still the biggest,” assures Charley Puyo, former competition director of the Quiksilver Pro in Hossegor (France), who has known the Floridian since 1985.

Proof of this is: Slater is the only one in history to have obtained a mark of twenty out of twenty at Teahupo’o, thanks to two perfect hits made in the final in 2005, on the occasion of the 2e of his 5 titles on the spot, again a record.

“Retiring soon”

In 2022, the year he turned 50, he still finished in the top 4 of the event and also won the Pipeline stage in Hawaii, another spot known for its very powerful wave, 32 years after his debut on the pro circuit.

His unparalleled track record has cemented for several years now his status as “the greatest surfer of all time”, the equivalent of Pelé in football, Ali in boxing or Jordan in basketball.

“No one comes close and no one is going to dominate this sport for that long in the future,” says Australian Tom Carroll, double world surfing champion (1983, 1984), privileged witness to Slater’s rise to fame. summit and one of his relatives.

“He is someone who loves surfing from the depths of his being. This sport gave him recognition, but also a lot of freedom. He would have loved to become an Olympian and have an opportunity to win gold,” says Carroll.

While he has just announced on social networks that he is expecting a child with his long-time partner Kalani Miller, Slater, currently 33e in the ranking out of the 34 athletes on the elite circuit, seems more than ever in the twilight of his career.

“I haven’t announced anything yet, but I’m going to retire soon,” he said Tuesday after his first tour victory of the year during a qualifying series at Bells Beach in Australia.

For Jérémy Florès, “it’s difficult to know how long he will be able to continue, but I’m not worried, he has plenty of projects. And as long as there are waves to surf, it will continue to make us dream.”


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