BY FERNANDO RODRIGUEZ
The reigning world Surf champion, Alan Cleland, recently qualified for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris and became the first Mexican surfer to represent the country in the Olympic Games.
Brazil’s Italo Ferreira became the sport’s first Olympic champion in Tokyo, beating home favorite Kanoa Igarashi of Japan to take the gold. Carissa Moore of the United States – hailing from Hawaii – took the women’s gold ahead of South Africa’s Bianca Buitendag.
Cleland’s story is one of pure love for Mexico. With an American father and a Mexican mother, the man born in Colima lived with surfing from a very young age, a sport his father participated in. The young surfer learned to tame the waves in the town of Boca de Pascuales, a place known for its whitewater and surfing. Shortly thereafter, Alan moved to California, where he found the ideal waters of the Pacific Ocean to further develop his growing talent.
The blonde-haired Cleland decided to defend Mexico in 2014. From then on, when he wins a competition, the three-colored flag with an eagle devouring a serpent is what Cleland drapes upon his shoulders. At the World Championships held a few months ago in El Salvador, Alan won gold, after beating the Peruvians Lucca Messinas and Miguel Tudela.
At the Olympics in Paris, Alan will join the other 11 Mexicans who have also qualified: Citlali Moscote and José Luis Doctor (Marathon); Alegna González (Speed Walk); Miguel De Lara (Swimming); Gerardo Ulloa (Cycling); and six 10-meter platform divers: Kevin Berlín, Randal Willars, Osmar Olvera and Rodrigo Diego, Alejandra Orozco and Gabriela Agúndez.
The United States and Australia have long been the powerhouse nations in surfing although Brazilian male surfers have proven formidable in recent years. As well as reigning Olympic champion Ferreira, Brazil boasts the likes of three-time world champion Gabriel Medina, Felipe Toledo and Joao Chianca. But with a maximum of three spots per nation at Paris 2024, there is intense competition for the top three places in Brazil.
Hawaii’s John John Florence hopes to make a return to the Olympic Games, while 11-time world champion Kelly Slater, who will be 52 when Paris comes around, hopes to become an Olympian winner in what would be his last competition. Stephanie Gilmore, from the land down under, has eight world titles to her name although she faces stiff competition for an Australian Olympic berth from the likes of two-time world champion Tyler Wright and the young rising star, Molly Picklum.
At the Paris Games, 24 men and 24 women will compete in surfing at Teahupo’o Beach in Tahiti. There is a maximum of two surfers per event per nation although Kanoa Igarashi’s victory at the 2022 ISA World Surfing Games took Japan up to three men’s spots. Similarly, Kirra Pinkerton won the women’s final to earn an extra women’s berth for the United States. Extra berths are also available at the 2024 ISA World Surfing Games.
The first round of competition is non-elimination with the top surfers going directly to round three while the rest go into round two where athletes will be eliminated. From round three onwards, it is head-to-head elimination through to the final.