The no-names added a frisson of David v Goliath excitement, largely illusory, but that could mean more at Teahupoo in three years time.
Did ya dig?
Bona fide Olympic Sport?
Whatever that means.
I think, with caveats, yes.
Played as straight-up elite sport it came out smelling like roses, thanks to the superstar power of Italo, Moore, Medina, primarily. As a sideshow to the sideshow of WSL Pro surfing it works. The no-names added a frisson of David v Goliath excitement, largely illusory, but that could mean more at Teahupoo in three years time.
Absorbing Final Day with Carrisa and Italo dominating one-sided finals to no one’s surprise and the only serious rival to Italo, Gabe Medina, self-combusting in a Bronze Medal match against Owen Wright after losing a razor-thin semi to Kanoa.
Julian Wilson complained bitterly about being low-balled for a clutch air against Medina in his round three loss and it seemed judges laid down some retributive justice: high-balling Owen and low-balling Gabe for what seemed a clear, heat-winning wave.
Medina spent the play-off launching and falling huge airs – all of which would have won the heat – counting an 8.5 total after seven attempts and a third of the heat done.
Owen’s high score of a 6.4 for two lateral turns and a bog standard close-out reo seemed a massive score, compared to what had gone before and what was scoring. Judges had made a point of penalising safety surfing which made that confluence of scores baffling after three days of incredibly fine judging which sent a super defined message to competitors and the public about what was Olympic-level surfing.
No matter, O-dawg looked great on the podium in green, gold and bronze. Classic scenes, Fernando in tears handing out medals, Owen towering over Italo. Carissa looking sensational in a white USA track suit with a stars and stripes face mask.
They got the right guy and the right gal for Gold, as they usually do in the end. Italo dropped bangers all day. Big, lofted rotations into the flats, huge closeout hits, he went to turns in the Final against Kanoa when the implications of Medina’s failed air strategy became clear to him.
That was a brilliant display of composure, especially after knee buckling closeouts hit left his magic Timmy Patterson in two pieces on the first wave of the Final.
An absorbing Finals Day probably peaked around the Medina/Bourez and Italo/Ohhara Quarters.
There was some debate over an under-scored tube-ride from Bourez but Medina had gone huge and there was just no answering back. Except from Italo in the next heat, who went huger. The two Brazilian boys were cock a hoop, as relaxed as lovesick teenagers in a sunlit field of daisies.
Nothing earthly could seem to stop them.
Medina took the same scorched earth form into the semi with Kanoa. Bam, bam, there were two big scores on the board in the first three minutes, the first before Kanoa had even paddled out the back. He was smiling, laughing, goofing off in his claims.
A human being in love with the moment, to quote his Insta.
Coach King was on the beach laughing, whooping it up.
Six minutes to go, Medina in full control. Absolute full control, hands Kanoa a shitty little wave under priority. You could smell that old Medina arrogance, that I love and others love to hate, from an ocean away. Kanoa zig-zags against the grain and a ramp presents itself.
Launches a full rotation, so slick and perfect.
Judges had to pay the high eight score needed with a nine. Gabe on track for Gold and now so rattled he could not regain composure for the Bronze medal matchup. I think a preview for Trestles if someone can take a heat off him in the Finals.
In the second semi, Italo tried to blow Owen out of the water, knowing Wright would safety surf and refrain from the air. Huge attempts in brown water explosions followed, one after the other. By my calculations, Italo missed three or four ten-point rides by a beesdick.
Staggeringly, Owen did not respond in kind. His strategy was to rely on Italo not making any of them, which incredibly, almost worked. It was only a bit of sharp face work that gave a Italo a very narrow winning margin.
Question for Australia’s surfing brains in the High Performance Center, who accompanied the team to Tokyo.
How could you not have a surfer prepared to go to the air in closeout beachbreak with an air wind against the best aerialists in the world? It was almost a miracle they snuck a Bronze medal through with that commitment to mediocrity.
With the surf a turgid morass of rippy river-like waves in the final, Italo did not make the same mistake of burning too many opportunities with non-makes. On a day when everyone went right, he found a series of lefts with a coping to grind off and put on a skate-style surf clinic, then punched hard vertical holes in righthand closeouts like a brownwater Bells shorey to put the result out of reach of Kanoa.
Moore was equally dominant against Bianca Buitendag. Which was probably for the greater good of the Sport.
A Gold for Buitendag would mean a non-Tour surfer is better than the current world number one. No awkward questions though in a sport that almost fell over itself in a frenzy of self-congratulating after the Olympic cherry was finally popped.
Caz Marks got completely lost in her semi with Bianca then more lost in her Bronze medal match with Amuro Tsuzuki, which put Japan on the Podium for Guys and Gals.
No doubt many happy moments in Tokyo bars tonight.
Despite years of taxpayer funded focus on the Olympics, Australia could not get a woman on the podium. Our Sal, as Aussies know and love Sally Fitzgibbon could not get the job done, after Gilmore flubbed her heat.
We finish with a single Bronze.
Wright, at thirty-one an outside chance to qualify for Teahupoo.
Gilmore and Fitzgibbon almost certainly not likely to make the next Olympics.
Kanoa, twenty-three and surfing for Japan is almost certain to be an enduring Olympian, at least for Tahiti and Los Angeles.
That is all ahead of us in surfing’s new glittering path to the future.
For now, Italo is our first Olympic Gold Medallist.
Can we live with that?
I think yes. Very much so.
Did you bet the house on it, as advised?