Gabriel Medina hasn't always had it entirely his own way.
Despite the wealth and the fame, the trophies, accolades and adoration, there have been obstacles to overcome. Right now, the main one goes by the name John, and wears yellow.
In his amateur days Medina emerged as Brazil's new vanguard, and shortly thereafter he was the tip of the spear for the resurgent surf nation. In 2011, he singlehandedly validated the controversial mid-season rotation by winning two Championship Tour events in the back half of the year. Six years later, with seven CT wins and a World Title to his name, he's become one of the most established stars.
A hallmark of sporting legends includes a combination of freakish talent, a relentless will to win and the fact that fans are seldom indifferent to their talent. National allegiances only serve to amplify the effect, rendering Medina either a demi-god or a villain, but rarely somewhere in between.
In his attempt to win a second World Title, being a firm favorite in most heats, there's the other half of the room yearning to see the thoroughbred stumble.
While perfectly comfortable in his skin, Medina isn't falling over himself to appear endearing to the armchair fan at large. Faux modesties and deferential platitudes are not his calling card. But his persona has gone global -- and hearts on sleeves occasionally means the airing of dirty laundry too. The extra column inches and click bait surrounding that is small beer for those as focused on glory.
World Titles aren't won in the post heat interview, but rather in the water, where Gabriel's ability leaves him in very rarefied company.
Medina lives on a very short list of Tour guys who genuinely expect to win every single heat, on an even shorter list of those whom spectators, particularly those backing his opponent, expect to earn a 9+, even while under priority, on a wave that looks like a 5 at best.
2017 was a season that promised vintage battles, in part due to the myriad of plausible scenarios, and so far it hasn't disappointed. John John's tricky second album, the rearguard actions of Slater and Fanning, the rise and rise of Julian, Jordy, Kolohe...but however well you predicted Australia and Rio, very few expected Medina to rank No.10, come June.
Ayrton Senna, perhaps the most idolized Brazilian sportsman of all, famously used the ferocious Alain Prost rivalry to urge him on to becoming the greatest. And while Pele was peerless, and thus brutally set upon by his opponents on the World Cup stage, overcoming their rule-bending meant elevating his supernatural skills to even greater heights.
It doesn't take a statistical whiz to know that defending World Champion and current Jeep Leader John John Florence is the man to beat. Unabashed competitors like Medina hardly need cajoling. Indeed, the rivalry between the two might have crystallized sooner if John hadn't been left in Gabriel's competitive wake until somewhat recently (Medina owns a 10-4 record against Florence). The rivalry the surf world's been relishing over ever since they both got on Tour in 2011 could well be his catalyst for getting Gabe back in the mix this year.
One thing is certain, in a season as tight and as hotly contested as this, making and winning a Final needs to come soon. As the CT heads to that beloved heart-shaped island in the Pacific ocean, the defending event champion Gabriel Medina is seeking deliverance.