1. Five events, five winners
“Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative,” observed Oscar Wilde, who would presumably be savouring the relative lack thereof in terms of finals day performances by the front-runners. With five events and five different winners, it’s been a fiercely fought campaign with bloody new fronts opening up every contest. And not just because of five different victors, but also five distinctly different kinds of victories. From the emotionally charged fairytale of Owen Wright’s Gold Coast comeback, to vintage, gritty, no-quarter-given-or-asked De Souza. Peak, freak Florence at meaty Margaret’s to Jordy’s Rolls Royce-esque ringing of Bells. And then of course, most recently, a willful, wily Wilko return to winning ways in Fiji. Which bring us on nicely to…
2. Wilko wears yellow – same same but different
At my high school sports day in 1988 (they’re still talking about it hushed tones in the halls) Joanna Stedman was our class’s hope in the 800m; needing just a podium finish for us to win the day. Her first 400 was blistering, Michael Johnson-esque. She took the bell to a deafening roar with the biggest lead in the history of two lap races, before, inevitably, the slowing up on on the back straight. Then came the wobble, stumble, stop. Then she keeled over. Although she’d somewhat physically recovered by the time the ambulance arrived, whether the psychological scars of letting the class down have healed is less certain
While Matt Wilkinson’s 2016 season didn’t come unstuck quite so spectacularly (I certainly don’t recall him fainting), an electric start had him streets ahead, enough to both delay and amplify the eventual horror of being chased down by a baying, snarling pack. And while neither Wilko nor super-coach Glenn Hall gave much away — in terms of feeling John’s hot breath on the nape of their necks last summer — safe to assume it was probably a wholly unpleasant affair. This year, though, while Wilkinson finds himself in the same No.1 spot come mid-season, it’s via an altogether different route. His current status feels much more… sustainable, as if he’s built something, as opposed to looking around wondering if momentum might desert him at any moment. There’s a certain amount of cold-blooded calculation to Wilko 2017, and with an edge to it, like someone with a score to settle. And if you think both he and Hall won’t be have figured out a way to use the experience of last year’s derailment to their advantage, you haven’t been paying attention. Wilko’s a bona fide title title threat.
3. Parko up, Mick & Kelly down, Gabe lingering
In terms of the exclusive, catchily entitled three-member Tour club ‘Former World Champs Already Famous When The Millennium Bug Was A Thing’ (kids, look it up), Joel Parkinson had the quieter pre-season.
Much was understandably made of Kelly’s self-proclaimed last big shot at the trophy, while many relished the prospect of a certain degree of schooling the upstarts to Mick Fanning’s last lap.
But of the three, it’s the 2012 World Champ Parko whose haymaking under sunny skies has been significant enough to see him to World No. 6, poised to attack the Top 5 at the very least.
Meanwhile, Kelly and Mick are as yet to uproot trees by their own lofty standards, and find themselves in the unfamiliar surrounds of looking up enviably at the Top 10.
Gabriel Medina — many a savant’s pre-season favourite for the Title — hasn’t looked anywhere near his ferocious best. After serving a certain amount of notice on the Gold Coast, the following four events have been remarkable only for the meagre nature of their collective points haul.
But given the depth of his almost-peerless, freakish talent, and his distinct aversion to losing, it’d be a brave fan to bet on that losing streak lasting.