Waterski World Championships dominated by youngest athletes as records fall and Canada celebrates team overall victory with some sadness
Three well established records fell last weekend at the Boca Laguna Waterski Club in Chapala, Mexico which hosted a thrilling 2015 Waterski World Championships of the International Waterski & Wakeboard Federation (IWWF). Glorious sunshine and perfect water conditions prevailed all week long.
Athletes from thirty countries faced two unusual challenges in Slalom, Tricks and Jump. At an altitude of 5,000ft/1,500m, both the skiers and MasterCraft boats battled well with the thinner air. The water in the beautiful man-made lake also contained more natural yellow sulfur than many had previously experienced. This created slippery surfaces on gloves and equipment. To be better prepared some athletes trained in advance for these challenges. Throughout the weekend, the younger athletes coped well and made an enormous impact on these Open Championships often causing a sensation in defeating some well-established household names in the sport.
In Slalom, 62 men were whittled down to twelve finalists. Many surprise disappointments included Nick Parsons USA, Carlo Allais (ITA), Martin Kolman (CZE) and Ivan Morros (ESP). Unusually, past World Record holder Chris Parrish (USA) was first in the water. His score of one buoy on the very short 10.25m line immediately created an almost impossible challenge for those eleven skiers who were to follow. This was Australia’s Joel Howley’s first Open World Championships. He adapted quickly and pushed the lead score further to two buoys on that same 10.25m line. Freddy Winter (GBR) then thrilled the spectators by equalling Howley’s lead score. Soon after, two-time World Champion Thomas Degasperi (ITA) did likewise. Now we had a traffic jam of three skiers with the same 10.25m score. Nate Smith (USA), current world record holder and also the defending world champion, was last out. What a prospect! Altitude and yellow sulfur water proved no obstacle for him. With six major titles already achieved this season, this extraordinary athlete from Indianapolis, Indiana, successfully defended his 2013 title here with a score of 2.5 buoys on the 10.25m line. Thomas Degasperi (ITA) took the silver medal and following a run-off, Freddy Winter (GBR) beat newcomer Joel Howley (AUS) for the bronze medal.
The Women’s field of Slalom Skiers also saw many disappointments in the elimination process. These included Makayla Haw (USA), Natallia Berdnikava (BLR) and Sandra Botas Medem (ESP). As in the Men’s Final, the first skier on the water Kate Adriaensen (BEL), set a challenging score of five buoys on the 11.25m line. Coming fifth off the dock, past World Overall Champion Clementine Lucine (FRA), then stunned the fans with a score of two buoys on the shorter 10.75m line to take the lead. This was immediately equalled by 25 year-old Geena Krueger (GER). None of the four skiers to follow could beat this. However, the super-star of the decade, Regina Jaquess (USA), then responded by equalling the Championships Record with a blistering score of one buoy on the 10.25m line – just 2.25 buoys short of her World Record! Canada’s Whitney McClintock was last out. As the 2011 World Slalom Champion, could she topple Jaquess? Despite a huge effort, her score of 2.5 buoys on the 10.75m line was not enough for gold and she had to settle for silver with the young challenger Geena Krueger taking bronze.
In Tricks, the young guns really caused a sensation. The Women’s Final included all the super-stars, World Record Holder Erika Lang (USA), Natallia Berdnikava (USA), Whitney McClintock (CAN), Regina Jaquess (USA), Clementine Lucine (FRA) and Alex Lauretano (USA). Only one of these actually made it to the World Championships podium. Clementine Lucine set the pace early with 8,560 points. At the half-way point, Natallia Berdnikava beat this with 9,420 points. Nobody else could do better till 15 year-old Anna Gay (USA) and 14 year-old Neilly Ross (CAN) entered the Boca Laguna Waterski Club arena. Anna Gay not only set a new personal best score of 10,010 points but also set a new World Championships Record at the same time – all at just 15 years of age! Her close friend, fourteen year-old Neilly Ross was last out. Her score of 9,500 points was enough to take the silver medal with the bronze going to Natallia Berdnikava with 9420 points. These two teenagers are destined to dominate this sport for a generation to come.
Half of all the Men’s Tricks finalists scored more than 10,000 points with enormous surprises along the way. Aliaksei Zharnasek (BLR), the most talented tricker in the world today, saw his score of 10,410 points achieve only fifth place. Canada’s Jaret Llewellyn is capable of exceeding 11,000 points but he had to settle for sixth place with 10,360 points. Pierre Ballon (FRA) has a Personal Best score of 12,060. His 10,950 points were only good enough for fourth place. Very strong Overall contender Adam Sedlmajer (CZE) was sensational in Tricks. His score of 11,050 points was not just a Personal Best but also have him the Tricks Silver Medal and maximum Overall Tricks points which he had already achieved in Slalom. As in Women’s Tricks, again the young guns were devastating. With a score of 10,990 points, Junior World Overall Champion, twenty year-old Josh Briant (AUS), took the bronze medal. PanAm Games Champion, twenty four year-old Adam Pickos (USA), then made history by becoming the second member of his family to be crowned World Tricks Champion. His International Hall of Fame father Cory was there to watch Adam post a winning score of 11,210 points – ahead of Adam Sedlmajer and Josh Briant.
For the Women’s Jump event, the desired head wind arrived in time. There was drama from the very start. The defending champion Jacinta Carroll (AUS), had a painful broken toe. Putting on those tight Jump Ski bindings was torture for her. Her winning distance back at the 2013 World Championships was 56.0m. In one of the closest battles for years, seven of the top Jumpers were within about one meter in their scores this time. It was Alex Lauretano (USA) who set the pace with her distance of 51.4m. Only Jutta Lammi Menistrina (FIN) could beat this with 51.5m, just 0.1m ahead of Nancy Chardin (FRA), as we got to the final stages. Now it was time to bring out that broken toe! This Australian twenty-three year-old athlete from Geelong in NSW, is one of the most courageous jumpers of her time. Jacinta Carroll not only took the gold medal but also set a new World Championships Jump Record of 57.6m.
In Men’s Jump, water conditions were good but that much needed elusive head wind had gone. Russia’s Igor Morozov was in the lead at the half way stage with a distance of 64.5m. Past World Overall Champion, Felipe Miranda (CHI), then raised this to 65.5m. Next out was a true legend in the sport, Jaret Llewellyn (CAN). With a staggering 15 World titles and 11 World Records to his credit, at the age of 45, his consistency and levels of fitness have been exceptional. On his first jump, his speed to the Jump Ramp indicated that he was there to take home a title. To the horror of the spectators, having lost his position in the air, he crashed with enormous force. The rescue crew were quickly on the scene and he was taken by ambulance to a hospital in nearby Guadalajara where he had surgery for a broken femur. All on site were understandably shocked and with three jumpers still on the dock, Thomas Asher (GBR) dug deep to post a distance of 65.0m with Felipe Miranda still in the lead with 65.5m. Europe Africa Jump Record Holder Bojan Schipner (GER) then responded with 66.7m to take the lead. Last off the dock, US Masters and World Cup Champion Ryan Dodd (CAN), now had to beat this 66.7m to take the title of World Jump Champion. This he did with a sensational 67.3m on his first attempt. In an emotional ending to a truly great 2015 World Waterski Championships in Chapala Mexico, Ryan Dodd asked all to pray for a quick recovery for his team-mate and legend Jaret Llewellyn.
In the Overall battle, mastering the very different skills of Slalom, Tricks and Jump seems impossible to most in the sport. At the elegant closing banquet, Adam Sedlmajer (CZE) and Regina Jaquess (USA) were crowned World Overall Champions. The Team Awards went to 1. Canada, 2. USA and 3. France.
INTERNATIONAL HALL OF FAME