It was certain to be emotional. Turning it into a thriller was the real bonus. The fans had traveled far and wide to share in history. None went home disappointed.
Following the success of the 2004 Waterski World Cup Stops in France and Russia, the London Stop was for Slalom devotees. Being also the very last appearance of one of the sport’s greatest athletes, many expected a tear-jerker of the very best kind. In glorious sunshine and with the full support of sponsors Sunsail and MasterCraft, Thorpe Lakes, located beside Heathrow Airport, offered the perfect stage for this Stop and the season’s $650,000 total cash prize.
PRELIMINARY ROUND – LADIES
Ladies first. The Preliminary Round was as hot as any Final. Four Ladies tied for the last two places – a very unusual outcome. In fact, ten of the 12 athletes secured scores on the 11.25m Slalom line. This was close competition at it’s very best. With Chief Judge Steffen Rauchenwald (AUT) keen not to alter the tight timetable, the run-off commenced. Making it through were Geraldine Jamin (FRA), Britain’s Sarah Gatty Saunt, Jill Knutson, Natalie Hamrick and Karen Truelove from the USA – and the top scorer was the World Champion, Emma Sheers (AUS). She would therefore be last off the dock in the Finals.
PRELIMINARY ROUND – MEN
Time to turn on both the emotion and history taps. Andy Mapple OBE (GBR) was listed to be the last of the 18 World’s best Slalom athletes into the Thorpe Lakes arena. Clear blue skies, very hot unexpected sunshine and a totally concentrated audience added to the electric atmosphere. Mapple would retire today, no matter what the outcome. With 164 professional victories to his credit, 10 World records set since 1984 and still a co-holder of the current World record, here was an athlete of giant achievement by any standards. However, this was definitely his final appearance. Could the Lancashire lad and Florida resident once again gain a place in the Finals. What a prospect ?
Of the 18 athletes in the Preliminary Round, 12 secured scores on the very short 10.75m line. For those not so familiar with this discipline, the pulling load factor directly behind the MasterCraft tow boat has been clocked at over 800 lbs ! To ‘lift’ that load six times on each pass through the Slalom Course is almost beyond what any body can endure. Most did this 24 times !
Before Mapple entered the water, the last to attempt to qualify for one of the 8 Finals places, Chris Parrish (USA) continued his outstanding season by leading the pack with a score of 1.25 buoys on the almost impossible 10.25m line. Having lost weight over the winter and refocused his efforts, Parrish looks like a total winner these days. Also through were Jeremy Newby-Ricci (GBR), Wade Cox (USA) and Chris Rossi (USA). Only four places now remained. Beyond that we had the biggest log jam ever seen – with no less than SIX athletes tied at 3 Buoys on that 10.75m line. Now, what could Mapple do ? Would he join the log jam ? Was this just expecting just too much from his 42 year old frame ?
As Mapple threw the handle with a score of 3.5 Buoys, the roar from the crowd could be heard up in Lancashire in the north of England ! He would be seen in the Finals yet again. It took a score of 3 Buoys on the 10.75m line to qualify. He beat this by a half Buoy. However, the Chief Judge was now a case for valium. A run-off of SIX athletes is unprecedented. It was almost a separate competition. Losing out eventually were Steve Cockeram (NZL) plus Mateo Ianni and Fabio Ianni (ITA).
FINALS – LADIES
The Ladies Final was riveting. Briton Sarah Gatty Saunt’s opening score of 4 Buoys on the 11.25m Slalom line left no room for an easy Podium journey for others. Defending Stop leader and Yellow Bib wearer, Natalie Hamrick (USA), clocked up an identical score. Next came the current IWSF Ranking Table leader. True to form, the talented Karen Truelove (USA) pushed the lead to 2 Buoys on the very short 10.75m line. Two athletes remained. Mother of two Jill Knutson from Washington D.C. came next and had to settle for four Buoys on the 11.25m line. Now we had three athletes with this identical score ! The World Slalom champion was last to go.
Emma Sheers is a powerful athlete and does not like to lose. In perfect conditions, she brought the cheering spectators to their feet. By clearing the 11.25m pass plus the queue of three athletes with identical scores – she was now just moments away from taking the title from Karen Truelove. At Buoy two, the near impossible happened. Emma could get no further today producing yet another tie – and this time it forced a run-off for the title. Sheers versus Truelove. First off was Truelove. With amazing consistency, she again reached the 10.75m Slalom line securing a score of one Buoy. Now Sheers had the advantage. She knew what was required. Silence from the sun baked crowd. However, as the MasterCraft tow boat passed Buoy five, World Champion, Emma Sheers (AUS) had to settle for second today behind Karin Truelove. What a battle ! Karen Truelove was the London Stop World Cup Slalom Champion.
FINALS – MEN
Nobody warned the large contingent from Sunsail that Slalom skiing could be this nerve testing. This time, Mapple would be in the middle of the pack. All eyes were glued to the perfect water. Jodi Fisher (GBR), Drew Ross (CAN) and Glen Campbell (GBR) scored on the 10.75m line – with Campbell in the lead with 3.5 Buoys. He was also the holder of the Yellow Bib from the previous Stop in Dubna, Russia. Mapple had to do better for one last chance of victory. His 10.75m pass was stunning. We counted each Buoy all the way through to six. Then the incredible happened. With well over 800lbs pressure about to shoot down a slack rope, he was forced to let that handle go to avoid injury at the exit gates. His leading score of 6 Buoys on the 10.75m line could advance no further.
Jeremy Newby-Ricci (GBR) came next but had to settle for 2 Buoys on the same 10.75m rope. Mapple was still the leader. Wade Cox (USA), 6ft 3ins tall and Arkansas born, can get within two Buoys of the World Record on a good day. Once he cleared the 10.75m pass, it was obvious that Andy Mapple would not take the World Cup title today. Cox pushed the bar up to one buoy on the 10.25m line. Then, fellow American Chris Rossi from Vermont put in a great effort – resulting in yet another tie with the score of Wade Cox for second place. Now Andy Mapple was in third place. One athlete remained. Slalom specialist Chris Parrish (USA) is 6ft 5ins tall with a giant talent. Winner of the French Masters this year, he has been on the podium at over five major events recently. That suggests greatness. Once he cleared that 10.75m pass, all sensed that this could be his day. His final score of 2 Buoys on the 10.25m Slalom line was enough to earn the World Cup London Stop Slalom Champion title.
In a touching gesture at the Prize Ceremony attended by Alison Goulding, Marketing Manager of Sunsail and Ian Birdsall, Managing Director of MasterCraft, the top place on the Podium was taken by Chris Parrish (USA) but the joint second place athletes from the USA, Wade Cox and Chris Rossi, chose to share the second Podium step. This made way for Andy Maple OBE to stand on the Podium one last time. What followed was one of the longest applause experiences ever heard – and a tear or two was shed by quite a few. This was definitely one for the history books.
The next Stop of the International Waterski Federation’s 2004 Waterski World Cup will take place in Changshu, China on October 1st and 2nd. Details of all Stops can be found on www.iwsfworldcup.com
WATERSKI ACTION GUIDE :
EUROPE AFRICA MIDDLE EAST TOURNAMENT CHAMPIONSHIPS
September 15th / 19th 2004
IWSF WATERSKI WORLD CUP STOP
September 30th – October 2nd 2004
IWSF WAKEBOARD WORLD CUP STOP
October 30th /31st 2004
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