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H.B. surfer Kanoa Igarashi’s goal of winning gold at 2020 Tokyo Olympics is wiped out by coronavirus

Huntington Beach's Kanoa Igarashi rides a wave during the U.S. Open of Surfing at Huntington Beach on July 27, 2016.
Huntington Beach’s Kanoa Igarashi rides a wave during the U.S. Open of Surfing at Huntington Beach on July 27, 2016.
(Harrison Hill / Los Angeles Times)

Kanoa Igarashi is big on goal-setting, and even bigger on goal-achieving.

The Huntington Beach surfer last year set goals of finishing in the top five on the World Surf League’s Championship Tour, and qualifying for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.

Though he fell just short in the final CT rankings — he finished No. 6 in the world — he qualified for the Games and was looking forward to representing Japan in surfing’s Olympic debut in August.

His goals for 2020? Finish top three on the CT and win Olympic gold.

The goal of gold, however, had to be delayed until next year following the decision by the International Olympic Committee and Japan to postpone the Games, likely until the summer of 2021, because of the coronavirus.

While sporting events from the Olympics all the way down to local Little Leagues have been canceled or postponed, Igarashi was quick to temper disappointment with a sense of perspective.

“The Olympics are great, it’s a huge opportunity, a huge event, but in the bigger scheme of things we have much bigger problems to face right now,” said Igarashi, 22. “Just getting our world back in order, economically and the crisis we’re in. It’s not a time to be selfish and be worried about my own opportunities. I’m more invested in seeing what I can do to help my community as much as I can as a human. The Olympics are kind of a second priority.”

Full coverage of the International Olympic Committee’s decision to postpone the 2020 Tokyo Games until 2021 because of the coronavirus outbreak.

When word of the Olympics postponement came earlier this week, Igarashi said it wasn’t a surprise.

“I kind of saw it coming like a month ago,” he said. “Just seeing the way the virus was spreading so quickly. I have many friends in Europe and obviously Europe’s been hit. And I feel their timeline is about three weeks ahead of us.

“To see that happening and how rapidly it’s been moving, I could smell [postponement] coming. So it took a little bit of the leverage off and the shock out of it. But at the same time I don’t dwell on the negatives about it, there are much bigger things to worry about.”

While surfing’s debut in the Olympics has been delayed, a more immediate effect on high-level surfing came with the cancellation or postponement of the Australian leg of the 11-event CT season.

The first contest scheduled to begin Thursday on the Gold Coast has been canceled, while the second and third contests scheduled for April at Bells Beach and Margaret River have been postponed, for now.

“I was pretty much ready to head out for the Championship Tour, I was two days out from leaving Huntington to go [to Australia],” Igarashi said. “And if you’re two days out from leaving, you’re getting everything dialed in, I was just about to open up the suitcase again and wash clothes and pretty much getting ready to be on the road for the rest of the year.”

Instead, like so many others, Igarashi is getting time with family, staying in Huntington Beach with his parents, Tom and Misa, and brother, Keanu.

“It’s been family time, enjoying time with my brother, being at home and enjoying the simple things and little things, just being able to be with them, and everyone’s safe and everyone’s healthy, that’s the most important thing,” he said. “Being able to go out and surf is great, but that’s a second priority now. To be worried about being able to surf I think is a little bit selfish. For now, the main priority is about being with family and being healthy and safe.”

Igarashi, though, also wants to be ready whenever word comes that the CT season will begin. And that could be tough without a timeline to work with.

“As surfers, we’re able to cope with this a little bit better than other sports; we’re nature-dependent already,” he said. “This waiting game for us is pretty much something we go through our whole careers. But normally it’s more in terms of days, and not so much months.

“It’s a little bit tricky for sure. It’s a lot easier to motivate and train and prepare for something you have a set date for. … Either way, I’m still training as if it were tomorrow. That’s the mentality I have at the moment, while spending time with my family.”

Kanoa Igarashi will represent the country of Japan, where his parents were born, in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics next summer.

In the meantime, Igarashi says he has no doubt Japan will be able to overcome the challenges created by the postponement of such an enormous event as the Olympics.

“As you can imagine, an event that is being prepared for four years, it’s a big deal,” he said. “It was pretty much prepared and ready to go. Logistically it’s a huge nightmare, because you can imagine the amount of money that was put into it. The people involved, pretty much the whole country was involved in this, everyone was going to get affected by the Olympics in a positive way.

“I think everyone was caught off guard, but Japan is a very strong country and they have the power to move this to next year and make it better than ever. Obviously, there’s going to be logistical nightmares, but you do what you have to do. And hopefully the Olympics will be bigger than ever.”

USA Surfing released a statement earlier in the week saying that the four U.S. surfers — Kolohe Andino, John John Florence, Carissa Moore and Caroline Marks — will maintain their status as the U.S. qualifiers.

“Surfing is in a stronger position than other sports in two major ways,” USA Surfing CEO Greg Cruse said. “One, we have qualified our entire team already through the World Surf League Championship Tour 2019 final rankings. And two, our athletes are still able to surf and train in their local breaks.

“Surfing offers great practice for staying present and focused on the variables we can control. These are necessary skills in this whole new world.”

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