September 19, 2018 / 12:49 PM / a month ago

Muniz wins World Surfing Games gold, Olympic hosts Japan claim first medals

TOKYO (Reuters) - Argentina’s Santiago Muniz won the men’s gold medal at the World Surfing Games on Wednesday, while Kanoa Igarashi and Shun Murakami claimed Japan’s first ever medals in the competition.

FILE PHOTO: Surfer Kanoa Igarashi prepares for his heat at the Billabong Pipe Masters at the Banzai Pipeline in Pupukea on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, U.S. December 18, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Thayer/File Photo

The event, which has been staged in various guises since 1964, was held at Pacific Long Beach in Japan’s Aichi Prefecture, 100 km down the coast from where surfing will make its Olympic debut at the Tokyo 2020 Games.

Gold for Muniz, who also won the event in 2011, gives him a place at the 2019 Pan Am Games, which is a qualification event for the Tokyo Olympics.

“I am so happy. This feels like a dream,” Muniz told the International Surfing Association website.

“It’s amazing to represent my country. I can feel the energy coming from my team. It’s a beautiful feeling.

“This has given me even more motivation to get to Tokyo 2020. I am excited for the opportunity to qualify, but I have got to take it step by step.”

Argentina have now won four of the last eight men’s gold medals at the World Surfing Games and will be looking to challenge traditional powerhouse nations the United States and Australia in two years’ time.

The result also bodes well for hosts Japan, who saw 20-year-old Igarashi clinch his country’s first ever World Surfing Games medal with silver.

California-born Igarashi was making his competitive debut in Japan, after recently switching nationalities ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Games.

He is ninth in the World Surf League world rankings.

Compatriot Murakami took the copper medal for finishing fourth.

Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Ken Ferris

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