This past weekend the US Open of Water Skiing was back for the first time in about 10 years. It was held in Florida with Prelims at Lake Grew (USA Water Ski Headquarters) in Polk City and the finals at Lake Ivanhoe in Downtown Orlando. It featured the best male and female water skiers in the world who competed in slalom, trick and jump. This was also the last Elite Skiers World Ranking Event for Men’s Slalom. Coming into the event, I was sitting in 7th, the last spot for an automatic qualification into the 2015 US Masters; but Odvarko and Parrish were within reaching distance at 8th and 10th.
Men’s slalom skied in the prelims on Friday on Lake Grew and there was a field of 26 skiers. 14 skiers ran 39off. I ran 2.25@41 and was in 5th place. Nate Smith had the top score of 1@43. 7 skiers ran 2@41 and they were in a tie for 6th place. Only 8 skiers advanced to the finals so they had to do a run off for the last 3 spots. Some skiers had not skied in over 2 hours so it made for an exciting run off. John Travers and Daniel Odvarko ran 2@41 again and Thibaut Diallard; who was the first skier to run 2@41 and hadn’t skied in over two hours was the last skier off the dock in the run off. Pietari Rönkkö was sitting in the 3rd spot with 3.5@39 so Thibaut needed a full 4 buoys at 39. He did just that and punched his ticket into his first pro slalom final. Friday night there was a dinner at USA Water Ski Headquarters for skiers, officials, legends and participants who were participating in Ski with the Legends.
Saturday was here and I was excited to ski in another final. I felt I was in a good position in the middle of the pack to see what the first three guys had done and to put up a big score for the remaining four skiers to chase. Thibaut started it off with 1@41, followed by Odvarko and Travers both running 1.5@41. It was now my turn and I was ready to attack the four buoy course. I felt prepared as I had skied in the finals here last year so I was a familiar with the set up. The first two passes felt good but I didn’t feel settled like I did the day before at Lake Grew. Being a big lake, there was movement and there was some bumps at one of the buoys that was coming off of the jump. I had a little bobble at 39 and got deep around 3 but I was able to hold on to the slack around 4 and get through the gates to complete the pass. I tried to put the bobble behind me and focus on 41 as I felt confident that I could run it on the 4 buoy course.
I got sucked in a bit on the gate which effected my one ball as I was on the tail, I pulled to two and had a pretty good turn, I came into three with a little more speed than I wanted but I told myself to be patient and take it down course to turn it and go to four but as I was doing that I hit the bumps that were coming off the jump and found myself kissing the front of my ski and the handle in the water.A flashback to Moomba early this year appeared in my head and I told myself to stand up and lean out, rather than just lean back like I did at Moomba. It worked a lot better as I was able to get the full 3@41 and take the lead with 4 skiers to go. HO Skis teammate Will Asher was next as he rode the new V-Type. The ski looked great under him and after a smooth 39, I thought Will was going to run 41. He had a great start but had a bobble at 3 and stood up to tie me. Joel Howley and Chris Parrish fell into the hole at 2 ball at 41 to tie Travers and Odvarko with 1.5@41. I found myself in a two way tie for 1st with World Champ and World Record Holder Nate Smith left on the dock. I had talked with the Chief Judge Rhoni Bischoff to refresh my memory on the rules of a tie because Will was near the dock with all of his ski stuff on ready for a run off. She confirmed that if there is a tie, the prelim scores would be used to break the tie. Nate looked smooth like always as he went up the line. Nate came in a 41 and was on the tail a bit at one, it looked like he had a good two, as he came into three I thought he was going to turn it and run it but all of a sudden he stretched out to just get around three and came back to the wakes for a final of 3@41. This put Will, Nate and I in a 3-way tie for first place. Due to the rules, Nate and Will advanced to the super finals since their back up scores of 1@43 and 3@41 were better than my 2.25@41. I was bummed I was out of the super final and that we weren’t running it off but I was still stoked about my performance and excited to be on another podium this year! I think the quote of the day was by one of the skiers, “So you tied for the win, but you don’t have an opportunity to win.” I definitely got a good laugh but I respect that the rules were set ahead of time and as my dad always said in sports growing up, “don’t keep the game close enough to where a bad or controversial call can change the outcome.” Not that this was a bad call, but if I would have just run 41 I wouldn’t have been in this situation, so next time I will try to ski a little better to make the super final and not put myself in this situation again.
It was an exciting head to head with Nate opting to go out first and running 41. Will came in at 41 and just got too much at two as he got pulled up into three he was unable to get to four.
With this being the last Elite Points Event of the year, finishing in 3rd place at the US Open of Water Skiing was an amazing way for me to end the year. I started the year on two podiums down in Australia and I was able to finish the year on another podium! After just missing out on winning the LCQ and qualifying for the US Masters earlier this year, my goal was to qualify for the US Masters so I did not have to ski the LCQ next year. It is my understanding that I will now be qualified for the 2015 US Masters but I will wait until I receive an official invite early next year to confirm this.
I was also able to witness and be part of something special Saturday night. It brought chills to my body. John Worden made his presence that night from above as his son Zack Worden took home the jump title at the US Open. First he made the podium at the Malibu Open and now the US Open win. John played a huge role in putting on events at both of these venues by being the tech controller. Zack and John Travers stepped up and did an incredible job being the TC’s as well as skiers. And they both had great tournaments. Congrats Zack on the win, proud of you bro!
Next up for me is the Mapple Challenge Cup this weekend in Orlando, FL. This will be the last event of the year for me. It has a unique format that I am excited about trying. A record round with a max of 4 passes and a fun round skiing the reverse course (pull out to the right side for the gate and go through the gate right to left, stopping at 6 ball on the right side) max of 4 passes. Stay tuned next week for a recap and hopefully some video of that event.