Thursday, November 08, 2007

Fanning in world-title heaven - Imbituba, Brazil - The Age - 8th November 2007

NEW world champion Mick Fanning's thoughts were of his late brother as a dolphin swam nearby while he clinched the crown at Imbituba in Brazil.

Fanning ended seven years of American dominance, giving Australia its first men's world title since Mark Occhilupo in 1999.

The 26-year-old Gold Coaster clinched the title when he outlasted remaining rivals Taj Burrow and Kelly Slater in the penultimate event of the season, the Santa Catarina Pro.

Fanning was in the water waiting for his semi-final against childhood friend Joel Parkinson when Burrow was eliminated by fellow Australian Tom Whitaker and his dream was realised.

"I woke up this morning and I just had a good feeling that it was going to happen today," Fanning said. "It was so amazing to be out there with Joel.

"When I realised I'd won, I went, 'What do we do, Joel?' and he was like, 'I don't know'."

Not done, workaholic Fanning went on to beat Parkinson then claim his ninth world tour event win by beating Australian rookie Kai Otton in the final.

"To take the reins over from Oc (Occhilupo) is incredible," Fanning said.
"He is pretty much the legend of the sport. He's such a character and such a cool guy."

Fanning has been a model of consistency in his climb to world champion but it has not come easily.

Raised by a single mother who now manages his career, Fanning lost his older brother Sean, also a gifted surfer, in a car accident as a teenager.

The two were very close and Fanning wondered at the presence of a dolphin in the water yesterday.

"It was so cool with Joel out there in the semi-final and there was a dolphin out there, I'm not sure if it was my brother or what," Fanning said.

"Every heat I've had today there has been a dolphin right there in the line-up, just chilling."

Born in Penrith, NSW, Fanning, his four siblings and mother moved to Coolangatta on Queensland's Gold Coast when he was a toddler and he grew up surfing with Parkinson and Dean Morrison, known collectively as the Cooly Kids.

"Joel and Dean are the reason that I train so hard," Fanning said.
"When I was a kid, those guys used to smoke me all the time. I was always trying to be better than those guys."

Making his debut on the world tour in 2002 after finishing No. 1 in the world qualifying series, Fanning was fifth in his rookie year and moved up to No. 4 in 2003 before finishing No. 3 in 2005 and 2006.

His lowest year-end rating of No. 7 came in 2004 after he tore his hamstring from the bone in a freesurfing incident midway through the season.

"Even though I was injured, it was probably the best six months of my life. I didn't have to worry about surfing.

"I had fun with my friends and, at the end of it, I found the girl that I love and want to marry.

"So even though it was bad for my body, it was a million more times better for my mind and my heart."

Fanning is engaged to be married in February to his long-time girlfriend, Gold Coast model Karissa Dalton.

Since winning the Billabong Pro in South Africa in 2006, Fanning has featured in seven finals.

He has also finished as a semi-finalist three times and a quarter-finalist twice from the past 15 events.

This year he had already won the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast and the Quiksilver Pro France.

Parkinson was thrilled for Fanning after their semi-final.

"It was pretty cool, we were speechless," Parkinson said.

Occhilupo was quick to congratulate Fanning.

"I get goose bumps just thinking about it," Occhilupo said.

"It's been eight years and we've got it back to Australia.

Fanning is now Australia's ninth men's world champion after "Midget" Farrelly (1964), "Nat" Young (1966 and 1970), Paul Neilsen (1972), Ian Cairns (1973), Mark Richards (1975 and 1978-82), Peter Townend (1976), Wayne "Rabbit" Bartholomew (1978), Tom Carroll (1983-84), Damien Hardman (1987 and 1991), Barton Lynch (1988) and Occhilupo in 1999.