Words by Sean Doherty in San Francisco
Damien Hardman hit send. The text message, sent to long-time friend and rival Gary Elkerton, said, “Kong, they’ve just started recounting ’87! You’re still in with a shot!” He chuckled as he sent it. Dooma and Kong had duked out the 1987 world title in one of the closest finishes in ASP history, Dooma only getting the nod when he beat Kong in the semi-finals at the Coke Classic at Manly, the last event of the tour. World title recounts have been a hot topic here in San Francisco since the news broke yesterday that an administrative bungle by the ASP had seen them jump the gun in awarding Kelly Slater his 11th world title on Wednesday. I pointed out to Dooma that if he loses ’87, maybe he should start crunching the numbers on ’92 when he finished second to Kelly’s first world title.
I’d sat in the departures lounge of Brisbane airport with ASP Tour Manager Renato Hickel last week, and we spoke of what Kelly needed to do to claim the title. He explained that if Kelly won his round three heat here in San Fran he’d be untouchable for the title. Finishing with a guaranteed ninth, Kelly would be tied on points with Owen Wright even if Owen were to win both San Francisco and Pipe. Kelly, on the basis of his higher seed points, would then win the title on a countback. The problem was the computer calculates these seeding points over a 12-month window, including results from the back end of 2010… which obviously don’t count for much when deciding a 2011 world champion. In hindsight it looks reasonably obvious but it went straight through to the keeper at the time.
Ironically it was Renato – a good friend of Kelly’s over his 20 years on tour – who was the one who handed Kelly the trophy on Wednesday. Speaking with him today you had to feel sorry for the bloke. As soon as the news broke, the numbers re-examined and it was found Owen could actually still win the title, Renato put his hand up and took the wrap for the balls-up. He had no choice. As blunders go it was a good one, and after a week of mainstream headlines worldwide lauding the anointed champion as possibly the greatest athlete of all time, it painted the sport of surfing as one of the more amateurishly run. In fact, the ASP’s false start on handing out Kelly’s world title got more column inches in the straight press than the world title win itself.
Kelly took the farce in his stride. In fact he’s kinda ran with it. He’s lit up the Twittersphere on the subject, having some fun with the ASP’s balls up and joking about a recall of the ubiquitous “Ke11y” merch. Short of a miracle he’s going to win the title, it’s just a matter now of when. But when he does there’ll be none of the giddy pageantry that went down when on Wednesday. Renato has already stated they won’t be presenting the trophy a second time. The crowds who lined Ocean Beach to watch Kelly apparently win his title on Wednesday are unlikely to turn back up in such numbers. The unseasonably balmy weather has long gone, replaced by a more traditionally bleak and brisk San Fran gloom. If Kelly officially wins here in coming days – which he’ll do with one more heat win – he’ll probably walk back up the beach alone with a wry smile and the whole scene might just seem a little weird.
Meanwhile, the recount laughs continue. Soon after Dooma sent the text I received a text from Parko. “Can you check 2009 for me?”
- Sean Doherty
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