Florence beats Slater for spot on US Olympic surfing team

John John Florence of Oahu's North Shore returned from knee surgery to take the final spot on the inaugural U.S. Olympic surfing team

PUPUKEA, Hawaii -- John John Florence of Oahu's North Shore returned from knee surgery to take the final spot on the inaugural U.S. Olympic surfing team after 11-time world champion Kelly Slater lost in the semifinals of the World Surf League Pipe Masters at Banzai Pipeline on Thursday.

Although Florence, 27, missed the previous five contests while recovering from ACL surgery, he came into the final event with such a commanding lead that the 47-year-old Slater needed to win the Pipe Masters to earn an Olympic berth.

Florence lost in the quarterfinals to Gabriel Medina of Brazil to end the season ranked No. 7 in the world and 3,000 points ahead of Slater, of Cocoa Beach, Florida, who finished ranked No. 8. Slater lost in the semifinals to world No. 1 Italo Ferriera of Brazil.

Florence joins Kolohe Andino of San Clemente, California; Carissa Moore of Honolulu; and Caroline Marks of Melbourne, Florida, on Team USA for surfing’s Olympic debut in Tokyo next summer. Andino earned the first U.S. men's spot earlier in the season.

“This is an absolute dream team,” USA Surfing CEO Greg Cruse said. “Team USA not only has the best surfers in the world, they are spectacular representatives of our sport and country. Their professionalism, passion and dedication to excellence is unmatched.”