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TOKYO - Japan's Kanoa Igarashi took a thrilling semi-final against Gabriel Medina to set up a gold-medal showdown with Brazil's Italo Ferreira, while Bianca Buitendag pulled off a huge upset over Caroline Marks to make the women's surfing final.
Guaranteed at least a silver medal, South Africa's Buitendag will face world No.1 Carissa Moore of the United States, who eliminated Japan's Amuro Tsuzuki, in an Olympic final she told reporters will be the last event of her career.
"This is my grand finale," she said, promising to put on a show. "A lot of things are falling into place at the same time and I don't believe in luck, so I guess there's some sort of plan here."
After beating Australian seven-time world champ Stephanie Gilmore on Monday, Buitendag achieved another seismic shock against 19-year-old prodigy Marks, who is ranked sixth in the World Surf League.
Buitendag took an early lead and Marks was comprehensively beaten after struggling to find waves to her liking.
American-born Japanese surfer Igarashi came from behind to nail a stunning aerial manoeuvre for a score of 9.33 to win by 0.24 of a point over Brazil's Medina, who will meet Australia's Owen Wright in the bronze medal heat.
"I was just surprised I got an opportunity. With 10 minutes left and needing a nine, you can ask pretty much anyone - that's up there with as big of a hole as you could be in," a delighted Igarashi told reporters.
The 23-year-old is performing on the beach where his father learned to surf, passing on his knowledge of the sport to his son on their many family visits to Japan.
Now, the first Olympic gold medal in surfing is now almost within his grasp.
"I can't get too caught up in all this, I just want to reset and just lie down for a second, and look for a gold medal run," Igarashi added.
In the other men's semi-final, favourite Ferreira faced down a strong challenge in a tense encounter with Wright to win by less than a point.
Other sports at the Games are fearing disruption from stormy conditions in Tokyo, but the surfers are embracing the wild and windy weather, with the organisers moving the medal heats forward by a day to Tuesday to make the most of the waves. REUTERS