We know it’s an amazing achievement but where do surfer Kelly Slater’s titles fit in the world of sport?
I apologise for the delay in posting this week but a few things interfered: a sickness, a bit of uni work and the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) prematurely announcing my subject, Kelly Slater as 2011 world champion. It doesn’t help things when you’re about to publish and Slater discovers it is possible for him to still lose. Now that Slater has won another heat and put the year’s result beyond doubt, I can finally publish this blog. Yay, I can hear you all say.
Kelly Slater is known to most Australians. The winner of now eleven world titles, the American has been on the world surfing circuit since July 1990 and is frequently part of the highlights package nightly news hours show when covering the ‘minor sports’ aka the non-football sports. His title win over this weekend cemented his place as a surfing god, but the question of where it ranks in the world of modern sport continues to linger.
It is important to note, no matter the event, being crowned a world champion in any world event is honourable. Even becoming World Marbles Champions, as the Yorkshire Meds’ did in 2011, is a decent effort. For Slater to win eleven titles is extraordinary.
There are some things to consider when attempting to rank and place some perspective on Slater’s efforts amongst the amazing feats of the past fifty years. The breadth of the sport, performance needed to win a title and potential for the record to be matched are all vital criteria to value a sporting world title.
Breadth of the sport
Comparison: Badminton World Series
The ASP currently holds World Tour competitions in six regions of the world, with Australia x2, the Pacific x2, the US mainland x3, Europe x2 and one each in South Africa and Brazil. Despite the ASP’s attempts to visit most corners of the globe, the diversity in competitors is still lacking. Most of the 32 top-tier ASP athletes hail from America, Hawaii, Australia or Brazil. The diversity was far shallower in the nineties but the ASP’s second-tier competitions are developing athletes from regions formerly unfamiliar with the ASP. The world surfing body’s circuit is much like the Badminton Super Series, a circuit where although ten countries host competition rounds, the best players are, bar a few, restricted to five countries: China, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Denmark.
Comparison: Roger Federer
The combination of balance, leg strength and core stability undoubtedly makes surfing extremely athletic. These are much the same physical demands tennis requires its players to exhibit. In terms of stats, Slater’s control over the surfing world for the period of 1994-1998 is akin to Federer’s stranglehold on the rest of the ATP Tour from 2003-06. In 2006, Federer accrued twice as many points as his nearest rival (Rafael Nadal). In 1994-1998, Slater won 5 consecutive world titles and recorded 25 wins. More, in 2010, a 38-year-old Slater schooled his opponents in the season’s ten events on his way to 4 wins and 8 podiums. The ASP rank uses the best 8 events and Slater scored a remarkable 69,000 points from a possible 80,000. Both on a statistical and physical level, Federer is a best match for the performance Slater needed time and again to win surfing’s world crown.
Potential for it to be broken
Comparison: J B Cummings
For those who wonder, nay dream, this can be broken, I have an answer.
Slater’s strike rate has been so out-of-this-world that, as the sport gains popularity in regions beyond the Pacific, it will be increasingly more difficult to win three world titles, let alone eleven. Bart Cummings has both the longevity and gigantic trophy cabinet to match surfing’s king. Since Light Fingers in 1965, Cummings has trained an amazing twelve Melbourne Cup winners. While his Cup strike rate may not be as impressive as Slater’s, the racing royalty is head and shoulders and chest and knees above the rest, with the next best trainers recording five winners. ‘The race that stops a nation’ is attracting more international and is becoming increasingly more difficult to win, setting Cummings’ record in stone, never to be broken.
So where does that leave us? These ‘results’ are quite random and unrelated but they do serve a purpose. They show that while surfing may not be relevant to all across the globe (Badminton World Series), Slater’s effort has made millions stand in awe (Federer) as many more shall do for many years to come because the achievement will be unsurpassed, towering over all records in the years to come (Cummings).
But everyone likes a nice concise package and I’m not one to disappoint. So here is the summary athlete…
Both of these sports have limited talent pools, require a high degree of strength and balance, and both athletes have consistent records of quality performance that are unlikely to be broken. Moto GP has been changed, enhanced and excited by The Doctor, Italian Valentino Rossi.
Moto GP titles are worth slightly more than ASP world titles simply because the breadth of the sport is larger, with motorcycle tracks in most countries around the world. However entrance to the sport is limited to those who can afford it. Surfing unintentionally culls its population is a different way but causes the same effects with its environmental limitations. Its advantage is that, unlike motorcycling, it is relatively cheap, requiring one piece of equipment.
Should Rossi not win another world title, his seven may match Slater’s eleven.
Regardless of all this, there is one thing beyond all reasonable and unreasonable doubt:
Kelly Slater is KING