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Golden chance is gone for U.S.

After key eliminations in the men's side, the team is looking to the women to keep hopes alive for a medal in the World Surfing Games.

October 22, 2006|Pete Thomas | Times Staff Writer

Like most 14-year-olds, Courtney Conlogue enjoys simple pleasures, such as playing with her dog, listening to music, going to school and participating in team sports.

But the cheery-eyed blond from Santa Ana is not a typical ninth-grader. She's a top-tier amateur surfer, an aspiring pro with superstar potential, and a proud representative of her country.

Conlogue, one of the youngest athletes in the 33-nation Lost Energy Drink ISA World Surfing Games at Huntington Beach Pier, was among very few bright spots on an otherwise gloomy Saturday for Team USA, which suffered key eliminations on the men's side and had its gold-medal hopes all but vanish.

The United States was in third place and had seven of 10 surfers still competing going into the seventh day of an eight-day competition. It was positioned to win for the first time since 1996, when the biennial event was last held at Huntington Beach.

But Chris Ward and twins C.J. and Damien Hobgood, all veterans of pro surfing's elite World Championship Tour, were unable to make it through Saturday's qualifying heats.

So, in this war of attrition, where surfers earn points based on how far they advance, the U.S. remained in third place with virtually no chance of overtaking leaders Australia and Brazil, which respectively have seven and six surfers still in the contest.

"It's pretty near impossible to win the gold," acknowledged U.S. Coach Peter Townend.

But the silver and bronze medals remain within grasp, he said, thanks to Julia Christian and Conlogue, the U.S. representatives in the open women's division who advanced to Round 5 after finishing Nos. 1 and 2 in their four-surfer heat against Hawaii's Bethany Hamilton and Lani Hunter.

Today's qualifying rounds will be followed by finals and the crowning of the world champion, plus individual champions in open, longboard and bodyboard divisions.

"The girls punted it over the line and the guys didn't. That's the bottom line," Townend said.

Advancing this far was expected of Christian, 24, a WCT veteran who finished second individually to Peru's Sofia Mulanovich in 2004 in Ecuador.

But for Conlogue, it's surprising simply because of her age and the magnitude of the event.

Hamilton, Hawaii's one-armed wonder, made a strong statement by opening the best-two-waves heat with a score of 7.67 on a four-foot left-hander she rode to the beach. Christian nearly matched that effort with a 6.60.

Conlogue, who fell on her first wave, caught a larger wave and fell again. She was clearly nervous, but while paddling back out she turned and took a smaller wave, which opened up nicely as she scored a 6.77 to move into second.

"It switched my heat around so I was able to make the nerves go away really fast," she said. "But it took about 10 minutes."

Christian re-established the lead with a 4.73 and later may have helped Conlogue immensely by purposely gaining position on Hamilton to keep her from catching a larger wave.

Christian then had a 7.17 to give her what would be a winning score of 13.77, and Conlogue had 6.00 for second.

Then Conlogue did something you might expect of someone so young and energetic: She walked down the beach and went surfing with her father.

pete.thomas@latimes.com

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