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With Tropical Storm Nepartak making landfall in Japan on Tuesday, you couldn’t ask for a more exciting day for the finals of the first Olympic surfing competition. And there was plenty to celebrate for the hosts, with Kanoa Igarashi taking silver in the men’s competition and Amuro Tsuzuki grabbing bronze in the women’s event at Tsurigasaki Surfing Beach in Chiba Prefecture.

The surfing dream came alive early in the day for Japan as both Igarashi and Tsuzuki qualified for the semifinals of their respective competitions in tightly contested quarterfinal matches.

“Today is one of those days when it’s man against ocean, more so than competing against your competitor, but that’s what makes it fun,” Igarashi told reporters after his quarterfinal victory early in the day.

Igarashi, 23, was riding in familiar waters: Tsurigasaki was his father’s home surfing beach long before the sport was seriously considered for the Olympic program. But his road to the medals was far from guaranteed, as Igarashi’s opponent in the semifinals was Brazillian Gabriel Medina — a double world champion and sixteen-time winner on the WSL Championship Tour.

In the semifinals, two early waves gave Medina a lead that looked insurmountable, but with less than 8 minutes to go in the competition, Igarashi launched a huge aerial trick, surprising even himself with a monster 540 degree spin, for an individual wave score of 9.33 out of 10.

A delighted Igarashi advanced to the finals with a total score of 17.00 to Medina’s 16.76. In a major upset, Medina finished a disappointing fourth, with Australian Owen Wright taking bronze.

Japan's Amuro Tsuzuki following her quarterfinal matchup on Tuesday. | REUTERS
Japan’s Amuro Tsuzuki following her quarterfinal matchup on Tuesday. | REUTERS

It was a dramatic start in the gold-medal match, with Igarashi’s opponent Italo Ferreira snapping his board on his first wave and having to rely on a caddy to bring him another so he could continue. Igarashi used the moment to his advantage, setting a score of 4.50, but Ferreira, with a new board under his feet, quickly replied with a high-scoring wave to take the lead. Ferreira continued to ramp up the pressure with strong runs, and Igarashi was unable to find a clean canvas on which to draw a winning line. Ferreira took gold with a score of 15.14 to 6.60.

“I got power from the people around me and am happy that I’ve won a medal,” Igarashi said after the competition. “But I’m still disappointed. I was unable to find my rhythm.”

Ferreira, an extremely popular surfer from Brazil, learned to surf on the plastic lid of one of his father’s fishing coolboxes. The 27-year-old previously won the world title in the 2019 World Surf League.

In the women’s semifinals, Tsuzuki faced off against American Carissa Moore in a tense round with a meager offering of rideable waves that awarded neither surfer many points. Moore ended up beating out Amuro Tsuzuki 8.33 to 7.43, with Tsuzuki heading to the bronze-medal match against Caroline Marks.

Kanoa Igarashi of Japan celebrates with his opponent, Gabriel Medina of Brazil, in the background.  | REUTERS
Kanoa Igarashi of Japan celebrates with his opponent, Gabriel Medina of Brazil, in the background. | REUTERS

Tsuzuki, 20, went on to win a well-deserved bronze against Marks in increasingly turbulent waters whipped up by the storm, with a score of 6.80 to 4.26.

Moore faced South African Bianca Buitendag in the women’s finals, taking gold as a rainbow appeared above the ocean.

“I am super happy. I really can’t believe it,” Tsuzuki said.

“I’d be really happy if people in Japan get to know more about surfing due to me winning a medal.”

The Olympic surfing competition is broken up into 30-minute rounds (35 minutes for the medal-winning matches) and each surfer’s totals are based on their two best-scoring waves within that period. The maximum possible score is 20, with 10 points indicating a perfect score for an individual wave.

Eight days were initially scheduled for the planned four-day surfing competition, with four days kept in reserve in case the waves were too small. There was no risk of that today as Tropical Storm Nepartak brought a consistent 2.5-meter swell to the Chiba coast, with organizers moving the finals forward a day to make the most of the bigger waves.

The new sports debuting at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics have so far provided an abundance of medals for Japan. Earlier this week, Yuto Horigome won gold in the men’s street skateboarding, while Momiji Nishiya took gold and Funa Nakayama took bronze in the women’s street event.

Information from Kyodo added

Silver medallist Kanoa Igarashi | REUTERS
Silver medallist Kanoa Igarashi | REUTERS

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