Medal contender Jordy Smith withdraws from Tokyo Olympics surfing event

Jordy Smith of South Africa surfs in the final of the Boost Mobile Margaret River Pro on May 10, 2021 in Margaret River, WA, Australia. Matt Dunbar/World Surf League via Getty Images

South African pro surfer Jordy Smith has announced his withdrawal from the Tokyo Olympics, citing a knee injury that will not heal in the three weeks remaining till the sport's debut at the Games.

Smith, who competes on the World Championship Tour, said in a media statement on Friday: "It was tough to make the decision to withdraw. I've been looking forward to the Olympics a long time now and my build up was going so well.

"However, this decision is the only way to ensure I have a long career in professional surfing and reach my ultimate goal of winning the WSL Championship Tour."

Smith, who was a medal contender for the first-ever surfing contest at the Games, recently underwent knee surgery in the hopes of avoiding substantial long term damage, and was hopeful of it healing in time.

He told ESPN in late June of his decision to have the operation so close to the Olympics, rather than wait till afterwards: "My mobility and everything was fine. We could[have left] it and then do surgery after the Olympics, but that would have called for a full knee construction.

"At that point, it would have been anything from eight months to a year and a half out after that, as opposed to a month and a half to two months, maybe three months max -- and that's [for] your average person.

"So I opted for the repair. I've got 10 years plus of my professional surfing career and my entire life that I want to continue surfing. I wanted to keep my knee in its most original state instead of having full knee construction.

"At that point, who knows how long things are going to take? It would put next year out for me. It would put a lot more at risk for me. I think the biggest goal for me is to be able to surf for as long as possible in my life with a healthy knee."

According to Surfing SA, his spot in the Olympics will be offered to the next highest available person in the rankings. Smith was ranked as high as No7 on the international 2021 Men's Championship Tour.

Smith's withdrawal means that Isaac February will not be able to travel to Japan as an official and that Bianca Buitendag, South Africa's remaining surfer, will be accompanied by Head Coach Greg Emslie.

The surfing competition will take place over four days between 25 July and 1 August, subject to wave conditions at Shidashita Beach. Smith told ESPN that he did not expect the quality of surf to be high at the Olympics, saying: "As far as wave quality goes, it's not very high.

"It's really, really low on the wave quality side of things, so that kind of downplays a lot of it. On the tour that we surf and travel around all year, the waves are pretty exceptional."

Leonard Solms contributed to this report.