TOKYO: Brazilian Italo Ferreira learned to surf standing on the foam box his father used to sell fish in. He is now aiming for gold in the sport’s very first Olympic appearance.
The 2019 world champion will debut among the favorites as surfing debuts in Tokyo as one of four new sports, alongside skateboarding, rock climbing and karate.
And it could be a spectacular competition, with a tropical cyclone expected to create big waves on Tsurigasaki Beach, 100 kilometers west of Tokyo.
But the Olympic spotlight will be a far cry from Ferreira’s humble beginnings in the sleepy village of Baia Formosa in northeast Brazil.
It was there that he learned to ride the waves, rocking up and down on his fishing father’s foam cooler.
“It seems incredible, because it gave no balance on the sea,” Ferreira told Brazilian media in 2019.
“However, I could catch a wave on it.”
A few months later, his family managed to raise enough money to buy him a used surfboard.
But he still had to go door-to-door asking his neighbors to help him surf, and his troubles didn’t end even after he turned pro.
In 2019, four days before leaving for Japan to participate in the World Surfing Games, Ferreira’s car was stolen with his travel documents inside.
He had to apply for a new passport and arrived at the site with nine minutes of running – but he still won the gold medal, wearing a T-shirt and shorts he had borrowed from another surfer.
“Each victory gives you a lot of courage, a lot of perseverance, it makes you more professional and makes you want to win more,” he told AFP.
Now Ferreira aims to add Olympic gold to his record, but he will have to defeat compatriot Gabriel Medina to achieve it.
The current world number one has a high-flying style that will likely make him fall in love with viewers who are watching the sport for the first time.
But he also has a side of steel, which he showed during a competition in 2019 when he intentionally blocked another surfer and received a penalty to save his victory.
“If it’s in the rules, you have to play the game,” Medina told reporters.
But the Brazilian duo are unlikely to do things their way among the 20 Olympic players.
John John Florence and Kolohe Andino will lead the American Challenge, edging out surfing legend Kelly Slater for the maximum two spots awarded to each team.
But Slater, 49, 11 times world champion, is on standby if an injury excludes Florence or Andino from the competition.
Japan’s Kanoa Igarashi brings the hopes of the host country to a beach where his father grew up surfing.
“It’s such a crazy and complete circle,” said Igarashi. redbull.com Last year.
“It’s definitely a wave that suits my surfing. It’s technical and precise. It’s right in my blood, being Japanese, to be precise and technically sound. “
On the women’s side, American Carissa Moore is the 2019 world champion and sits first, while teammate Caroline Marks is another serious contender.
Australia are also likely to be in the medal mix, with seven-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore competing alongside the current world number. 3 Sally Fitzgibbons.
“I used to draw the Olympic rings on myself in school – having the rings on my shirt now, having it legit is so cool,” Fitzgibbons said. – AFP