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With the 2020 Olympics now exactly two years away, caught up with three Americans training for sports that will make their Olympic debuts in Tokyo.

Carissa Moore

Sport: Surfing

Age: 25

Hometown: Honolulu, Hawaii

25-year-old surfing star Carissa Moore has her eyes set on 2020. Despite suffering through her worst season to-date in 2017, and struggling to find her footing again in 2018, the three-time world champion is already thinking about Tokyo.

“Finding my groove and finding a way to get back where I think I can be is my goal right now,” Moore said. “Going into 2019, I just want to put together a solid year and would love to qualify for the Olympics.”

The Honolulu native has spent much of her life surfing Hawaiian waters, but Japan isn’t entirely unfamiliar to her. Moore studied Japanese for six years in school and spent time in the 2020 Olympic host country when she was 14, on a visit to the Japanese company that made the fins for her surfboards at the time.

She hopes to return to Japan in 2020 for surfing’s Olympic debut. While she competes under the Hawaiian flag on the Women’s Championship Tour, she’s determined to wear the red, white and blue on an even bigger world stage. 

“The Olympics have so much history, and getting to represent where I come from on such a world stage and having our sport recognized on a whole other level is so special,” Moore said. “It would be really cool to be a part of that—to be part of such tradition and to be recognized as athletes on that same level with some of the best in the world in other sports. That part is really cool.”

Competing at Tokyo would be a chance to compete for her country and an opportunity to share surfing with the world, something that Moore says many in the professional community are excited about.

“From what I hear, everyone’s really excited to see surfing at that stage and see what’s going to happen. There’s a lot that’s up in the air and so much is unknown since we’ve never done this before. But I think we all just have to give it a try and I think everyone’s excited about the possibilities,” Moore said. “Getting to share our sport with the world is super exciting. I’m biased because I love it and I’ve been a part of it for so long, but it’s a really special sport. It’ll be fun to see what other people think who maybe haven’t watched it before.”

The events:

Specific details regarding how the heats will run, how the judges will be selected, and scoring criteria for the Olympic surfing competition will be released closer to the 2020 Games. It is known, however, that the event will take place at the Tsurigasaki Beach Surfing Venue in the Japanese surf town of Ichinomiya on the country’s Pacific coastline.

“Wave-wise, I’ve heard that they have some really fun waves,” Moore said. “I’ve never actually gotten to surf there that much but that would be really cool to experience as well.”

The competition will take place on the open ocean using shortboards, which are approximately six feet in length. 20 male and 20 female surfers will compete in four-man heats, where four athletes will compete at a time with the best two moving forward each round. Each heat will depend on the condition of the waves but will be 20 to 25 minutes long, during which an athlete can ride 10 to 12 waves. Their two highest scores will count.

Qualifying details:

The International Surfing Association and International Olympic Committee have created a qualification system for surfing’s Olympic debut that will use the 2019 World Surf League Championship Tour, 2019 ISA World Surfing Games, 2019 Pan American Games, and 2020 ISA World Surfing Games as qualifying competitions. The host country, Japan, will also be guaranteed two slots, one male and one female, unless already filled through one of the competitive qualifiers. 

“It’ll be interesting,” Moore said. “But I think they have a good plan for picking the best people for that event.”

Each country will be allowed a maximum of four surfers, two men and two women, per a country’s National Olympic Committee. 

“It is a very small group so it is going to be very competitive,” Moore said. “The women from the U.S. in surfing are so strong so I know it’s going to be very tough to qualify but I definitely will give it my best to try to be there and represent our country.”

Moore’s career:

Moore’s father taught her how to surf at just five years old. By age 12, she knew that surfing was something she wanted to pursue professionally, and she joined the National Scholastic Surfing Association junior circuit before qualifying for the Championship Tour at age 16.

In her nine years on the Tour, Moore has won three World Titles in 2011, 2013, and 2015. Her first title came just one year after joining the Tour, while her most recent came in her home waters in Hawaii.

—Emily Caron

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Tom Scott

Sport: Karate

Age: 28

Hometown: Richardson, Texas

Tom Scott’s alarm clock is the NBC Olympic theme song, even though the next Olympics are still two years away. It’s to remind him of a goal that lies ahead: to qualify for the first-ever karate Olympic event in Tokyo.

Scott has been competing in the sport for 20 years. He’s taken part in World Championships across the globe, but the Olympics—and Tokyo in particular—hold a special place in his heart. 

“The fact that it’s in Tokyo is so cool,” Scott said. “I love the culture and it’s very cool because karate came from there and belongs here, so it’ll be a very neat marking for karate specifically.”

His connection to Tokyo might also have something to do with the fact that his first-ever adult competition took place in the same Nippon Budokan combat sport arena that will host the Olympic event in 2020. A qualification for the Games would bring Scott’s career full-circle but, although he’s hopeful, he’s trying not to think that far ahead.

“[To qualify for the Olympics] would just be a whole lot of fun,” Scott said. “I try and keep that perspective that way. If you weigh it too much it can start to feel like it’s out of your grasp, but I definitely don’t feel like that’s the case. I’m just going to try and keep it simple and fun and after we qualify, or hopefully if we medal, then we can inflate competing in the Olympics back up to what it really is.” 

The events:

The karate event will feature both a kumite (sparring) and kata (form) competition. Sixty competitors will compete in the kumite competition, while 20 will compete in the kata contest. There will be 10 competitors in each of the eight events, which include two men’s and women’s kata events and three weight classes each for men’s and women’s kumite events. Weight categories are yet to be confirmed.

“The world will definitely get a good feel for karate,” Scott said. “They’ll see the best in fighting in kumite and in the kata contest’s solo performances. It will be the best of both.”

Qualifying details: 

Eligibility for the games will be determined by international rankings in the years leading up to karate’s Olympic debut, with each country or region only fielding one competitor.

“At this time, right now it looks like it’s a very small sliver of the very top elite [karate athletes], and so we kind of have to squeeze to get in,” Scott said. “Hopefully in the future there’s room for expansion potentially, but we’ll do whatever we have to do to be in [the Olympics]. It’s an amazing accomplishment and is going to be awesome for athletes and the karate world.”

Scott’s career:

Scott entered the competitive adult karate world at 18 years old, 10 years after taking his first lesson. 

The nine-time USA Karate National Champion, six-time North American Champion, five-time USA Karate Male Athlete of the Year, four-time Pan American Champion, and two-time Karate 1 Premier League Champion is the second-most decorated karate athlete of all time for Team USA Olympic Events.

—Emily Caron

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Nathaniel Coleman

Sport: Climbing

Age: 21

Hometown: Salt Lake City, Utah

Preparing for a fish fry while on vacation in South Africa, four-time youth bouldering champion Nathaniel Coleman ponders what qualifying for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo would mean to him.

“Oh gosh, it would mean my potential has been recognized and reached to a degree it has not in the past,” Coleman said. “It would be an honor to represent the United States on the Olympic stage. I can’t even imagine it at this point.”

The events:

Tokyo 2020 will mark the first time climbing is including as an Olympic sport, with competition split into three categories: sport climbing, bouldering and speed.

There has been consternation in the climbing community over the combination of all three disciplines into one event at Tokyo 2020. While bouldering and sport climbing share many similarities, speed is a whole different animal, forcing climbers to pick up new skills on the fly leading up to Olympic qualifying.

“Bouldering and sport climbing are more true to the heart of the sport and its origin,” Coleman said. “So having all three considered equally, it doesn’t sit well with me. However, I think that I am a powerful climber with more leg strength than some other international competitors, so speed climbing may come more naturally.”

Qualifying details:

The number of participants has been set at 40, with 20 men and 20 women vying for gold medals. But the exact process of how each 20 will be selected is still in doubt.

“I know (The IOC) is coming up with qualification events as we get closer to Tokyo,” Coleman said. “So far they’ve opened six spots per category for the top finishers in the 2019 world championships, and after that they’ll have continental qualifiers to open one or two spots per gender. From there we’ll see how it’s selected.”

The competition:

Coleman is one of the top candidates to participate in 2020, establishing himself as one of the world’s preeminent boulderers in the world at just 21 years old. But there will still be stiff competition for qualifying. Coleman noted Kai Lightner, Drew Ruana, Sean Bailey as some of his biggest rivals in the lead-up to Tokyo, and still considered his spot in Tokyo far from secured.

“I really wouldn’t care to speculate whether I’ll make it or not,” Coleman said. “I’d rather keep the pressure off of myself as I prepare.”

Coleman’s career:

Since beginning his competitive climbing career in 2007, Coleman has tallied a laundry list of accomplishments and championships.

Coleman snagged gold medals at the USA Climbing Youth Bouldering Nationals in 2012, 2014 and 2015, following those efforts with Bouldering Open National Championships in 2016 and 2017. The Utah native may face some stiff competition in Tokyo qualifying, but not many with a better resume.

—Michael Shapiro