John John Florence in race against time to get fit and qualify for Tokyo 2020 Olympics
John John Florence's stellar season appears to be over.
The current WSL Championship Tour points leader has announced that he'll be undergoing knee surgery after an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury.
“Unfortunately, in Brazil I ruptured my ACL. I’ll be pulling out of J-Bay and likely the rest of the CT season. I’m opting for surgery so I can be 100% next year. I’m excited for this new adventure and everything I will learn along the way.” Florence said on Instagram.
Florence's 2018 season was also cut short because of similar knee issues.
The Hawaii native partially tore his ACL in June of 2018 while freesurfing, and it's likely this injury is a re-occurence of the damage he sustained last year.
The two-time world champion was off to a hot start to 2019, winning the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach and the Margret River Pro.
After five competitions the 26-year-old has been the front runner for the 2019 world title crown and clear favourite for one of the two USA men's Olympic spots at Tokyo 2020.
The injury is likely take a third world title off the table for 2019, will blow the CT race wide open, and leave his Olympic hopes riding on the backs of other surfers.
The implications of the injury and recovery time mean Florence could miss out on qualifying for Tokyo 2020, where the sport makes an Olympic debut
The Olympic surfing qualification criteria state that two surfers per gender, per country will qualify.
At the end of the 2019 World Surf League (WSL) Championship Tour, the top ten eligible men and eight women will earn qualification for the Games in Japan.
As it stands right now, after 5 of the 11 events this season, Florence is ranked number one overall and holds one of the two USA men's Olympic spots.
Current number two in the leaderboard, Kolohe Andino, is also looking good for a USA place.
But behind them are a group of American riders who now have a realistic chance of catching Florence before the end of the season.
Could we see Kelly Slater surfing at the Olympics in 2020?
11-time world champion Kelly Slater is sitting seventh overall and Connor Coffin and Seth Moniz are close behind.
None of them have won an event this season. They'd almost certainly need to in order to get close to the Hawaiian's current total.
Slater's best result so far is third, and many fans would love to see the legend of the sport competing in it's Olympic debut.
He'd be 48 years old by the start of the Games, and had previously suggested to Olympic Channel that this would be his last crack at winning the world title... but that an Olympic appearance was very much still on his mind.
What next for John John Florence?
On Instagram, Florence said he would be ''pulling out of J-Bay and likely the rest of the CT season'', so there is a small window of opportunity, depending on his recovery and the points he needs, that he could compete at the Billabong Pipe Masters, at his home break in December.
He was also announced to be participating in the 2019 ISA World Surfing Games held in Miyazaki, Japan, September 7th-15th, which is another event which can yield an Olympic spot, although competing in that also seems unlikely now.
One last chance could be the 2020 World Surfing Games.
There's still hope for John John Florence, but time will tell if we see him at Tokyo 2020.
Remainder of 2019 WSL men's season
J-Bay Open: July 9 - 22, 2019
Tahiti Pro Teahupo'o: August 21 - September 1, 2019
Surf Ranch Pro: September 19 - 22, 2019
France Men's Pro: October 3 - 13, 2019
Meo Pro Peniche: October 16 - 28, 2019
Billabong Pipe Masters: December 8 - 20, 2019