The Water Skier — October 2010
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On Top Of The World

The U.S. Elite Barefoot Water Ski Team and the U.S. Junior Barefoot Water Ski Team each won overall team gold medals, the U.S. Senior Barefoot Water Ski Team earned the overall team silver medal, and eight U.S. athletes combined to earn 19 individual medals in respective events at the Barefoot Water Ski World Championships, Aug. 8-15, in Brandenburg, Germany

Winning a world overall title can do wonders for an athlete’s legacy. In women’s barefooting, it is arguably a punched ticket for induction into the American Water Ski Educational Foundation’s Water Ski Hall of Fame. Lori Powell-Drell won seven Open Women national overall titles and the 1988 Women’s world overall title before being inducted into the AWSEF Hall of Fame in 1999. Jennifer Calleri won eight Open Women national overall titles and four Women’s world overall titles before being inducted into the AWSEF Hall of Fame in 2002. Rachel George-Normand won eight Open Women national overall titles and the 2006 Women’s world overall title. Her induction seems imminent once she becomes eligible for induction. In August, Elaine Heller, the Open Women national overall champion in 2008, 2009 and 2010, and the 2009 World Games’ gold medalist, won the 2010 Women’s world overall title, virtually assuring her place among the all-time greats. “It has always been a dream of mine since I started competing to win the world overall title,” Heller says. “I just focused on the basics and tried to do my best. It feels great to join the ranks of all the other legendary women’s barefooters.”

Heller, who lives in Alma Center, Wis., won gold medals in women’s slalom, jumping and overall, and the bronze medal in tricks at the biennial Worlds, Aug. 8-15, in Brandenburg, Germany. She recorded high scores of 12.9 points in slalom, 2,210 points in tricks and 69 feet in jumping to finish with 2,724.6 overall points. Her 69-foot jump (21.0 meters) in the semifinals was a new women’s world record, surpassing a world record jump of 69 feet (20.9 meters) by Australia’s Ashleigh Stebbeings in the preliminary round. “In the preliminary round I was a little nervous because I was afraid of not landing one,” says Heller, who went on to win the gold medal with a 62-foot jump in the finals. “I went out and focused on doing my best. I jumped a personal best [of 65 feet], which had me going into the semifinals as the second seed to Ashleigh. In the semifinals I was concentrating on my timing on the ramp and getting a bigger raise by holding back more with my chest and raising slow. Thinking about the basics is what helped me a lot and that’s what helped make the difference in my jumping. I set the world record on my second jump. I was super excited. In the finals I was a little nervous because Ashleigh and I were neck-and-neck for the overall.”

Heller won the gold medal in women’s slalom with 12.7 points and the bronze medal in tricks with 2,210 points. “I was a little disappointed in my performance in tricks,” says Heller, who contributed 2,662.30 points to the U.S. team’s point tally. “I was hoping to set a new personal best for myself, but unfortunately it didn’t work out that way. I was having some trouble with my turns and it’s just something I’m going to have to work hard on in the off-season. I didn’t do as well as I would have liked in slalom, either, but I was happy with how everything worked out.”

For the third time, the biennial Elite Barefoot Water Ski World Championships was held simultaneously with the biennial Junior and Senior Barefoot Water Ski World Championships. The eight-day event featured more than 130 athletes from 15 countries. The Elite Barefoot Worlds took place for the 17th time, while the Junior Barefoot Worlds was held for the Ninth time and the Senior Barefoot Worlds commenced for the seventh time.

The tournament site – a public waterway prone to unpredictable currents – and constantly changing weather conditions provided challenges for the athletes and the local organizing committee throughout the week. Nonetheless, the U.S. Elite Barefoot Water Ski Team and the U.S. Junior Barefoot Water Ski Team each won overall team gold medals, the U.S. Senior Barefoot Water Ski Team earned the overall team silver medal, and eight U.S. athletes combined to earn 19 individual medals in respective events. Doug Koch of Dalton, Minn., and Derek Koch of Dalton, Minn., served as team managers for the U.S. Elite, Junior and Senior teams. Gary “Swampy” Bouchard of Winter Haven, Fla., served as the coach of the U.S. Junior team. Lee Stone of Spicewood, Texas, served as coach of the U.S. Elite team and Doug Koch served as coach for the U.S. Senior team.

In addition to Heller, athletes participating as members of the U.S. Elite Barefoot Water Ski Team were: Ryan Boyd of Orlando, Fla., Cody Heller of Alma Center, Wis., Brian Hetherington of Winter Haven, Fla., A.J. Porreca of Willowbrook, Ill., Keith St. Onge of Winter Haven, Fla., and Laura Szwed of White Lake, Mich. The U. S. Elite Barefoot Water Ski Team won its 13th consecutive world team title by tallying 7,951.04 points. Australia earned the silver medal with 7,582.90 points and South Africa claimed the bronze medal with 7,410.59 points in the 15-team field. “It feels amazing to be part of such a great team,” says Heller, who also was a member of the 2008 team along with Boyd, St. Onge and Szwed. “I love the team environment and how much everyone supports each other. It feels good to contribute points and help keep our winning streak going.”

St. Onge won gold medals in men’s slalom (19.0 points) and tricks (10,300 points), and the silver medal in overall (2,835.2 points). The 2006 and 2008 world overall champion contributed a team-high 2,767.34 points toward the U.S. team’s tally. “Anytime a team or individual wins often someone wants to dethrone them... badly,” St. Onge says of the U.S. team’s winning streak at the Worlds. “So the pressure continues to grow. It’s nice being an underdog because there isn’t any pressure really. I commend my teammates because it seems to be getting more difficult as the years go on. We have some young skiers and other teams tend to be getting stronger. We will do our best to keep the streak going.”

St. Onge scored 19.0 points in the slalom finals and 10,300 points in the tricks finals to win gold medals. “The site was very challenging with a lot of back wash, so it was difficult to know how hard to push it,” he says. “I took it easy in the first round of slalom just to make sure I made the finals. I new I made the finals in the first round so I pushed it just below my max [in the second round]. I scored a 20, which made up a lot of overall points. I new I had to trick my best in the finals for a chance at the overall, and even though I put up a score to win that round, I was just one trick shy of doing what needed to be done. My tricks should have been stronger. I did not perform to my potential, but I learned a lot.”

St. Onge’s 87-foot (26.4 meters) jump in the finals also was a pending Open Men national record. “I was pleased with my jumping,” he says, “because I jumped within a meter of the world record and that was something I had been working on all year.”

Szwed, who also competed as a team member in 2006 and 2008, earned the bronze medal in women’s overall (2,147.7 points), and contributed 1,685.83 points toward the team’s total score with scores of 12.4 points in slalom and 2,210 points in tricks. Cody Heller contributed 835.57 points to the score with his jump of 82 feet (24. 9 meters) in the preliminary round. “It’s a great feeling to be part of this successful team,” Szwed says. “I still feel immense pride and happiness for winning. I trained very hard for this Worlds and I didn’t want to take it for granted. I went into the tournament with high expectations for myself, but did not measure up as high as I wanted. I was disappointed in myself for how my final rounds went in slalom and tricks. I just had to reevaluate the situation and tell myself that I skied two final rounds at the world championships, and that is an achievement in itself. I did, however, achieve one of my goals in winning an overall medal.”

Great Britain’s David Small won gold medals in men’s jumping and overall. He finished with 2,915.0 overall points and set a new world jumping record – eclipsing his own mark of 90 feet (27.4 meters) set in 2004 – of 98 feet (29.8 meters) in the semifinals. South Africa’s Heinrich Sam briefly held the world record with a jump of 91 feet (27.8 meters) before Small took to the water. Small clinched the gold with a 95-foot (29.1 meters) jump in the finals. Australia’s Megan Roberts was the other individual gold medal winner, scoring 2,950 points in the finals of tricks.

U. S. Junior Team Wins Gold Medal

Athletes participating as members of the U.S. Junior Barefoot Water Ski Team were: Cody Ebbert of Utica, Pa., Ariana Koehler of Wauconda, Ill., Kailey Koehler of Wauconda, Ill., John Pressendo of Fort Pierce, Fla., and Lisa Pressendo of Fort Pierce, Fla. The U.S. Junior Team, comprised of all first-time team members with the exception of Lisa Pressendo (2008), won the gold medal by tallying 5,521.32 points. Australia earned the silver medal with 5,430.08 points and New Zealand earned the bronze medal with 4,544.90 points. “We knew that it was going to take a lot for us to even medal,” says Ariana Koehler, who helped lead the U. S. team to the gold medal by contributing points from all three events. “The Australians were the biggest competition and they had some awesome skiers. As the week went on we were all skiing very well and realized we had a chance against the other teams. It truly came down to the end, and our scores were ultimately enough to push us to the top.”

Ariana Koehler won the gold medal in girls’ overall tallying 2,861.5 points, and the silver medal in jumping with a leap of 36 feet. She contributed 2,861.54 points toward the team’s total score. “Winning the overall gold medal was truly rewarding,” she says. “Going into Worlds I definitely did not expect to win the overall, but it was an amazing experience. I am truly thankful for my coaches – Swampy, Keith [St. Onge], and David Small – for pushing me so hard in training. It was a lot of work, but definitely paid off in the end. I was really happy with the way I skied. I scored personal bests in both tricks and slalom, and tied my personal best in jumping. I feel that I really skied my potential, but now that Worlds is over I know that there is always room to improve.”

Koehler also won the silver medal in women’s slalom with a score 10.8 points as an independent competitor in the Elite Worlds, and placed fourth in jumping, just one-tenth-of-a-meter shy of claiming the bronze medal. “I was really excited to make it into the finals in all three elite events,” Koehler says. “There are a lot of good elite skiers out there, and I did not realize where I stood against them. I knew what my potential was going into each event and always went for it. Winning the bronze in jumping would have been amazing, and I was a little disappointed because I was so close. But by no means can I be upset because I was very proud of my overall skiing, especially walking away with the silver in elite slalom.”

Ebbert won the gold medal in boys’ tricks with a score of 5,500 points and the bronze medal in boys’ jumping with a personal best distance of 63 feet. He contributed 1,730.29 points toward the team’s total score. Ebbert’s personal best 6,350-point tricks run – a pending Open Men national tricks record – in the semifinals helped the U.S. Junior Team erase its deficit to Australia and eventually clinch the gold medal. “We fell behind by 1,200 points. We would have meetings periodically with Swampy and we started to get closer to the gold,” Ebbert recalls. “We all went out and did our best. The next thing we know, Swampy is telling us in a meeting that we could still win the gold medal. The trick event is my best event and it was the last event for the points. Swampy told me that in order for the team to win the gold medal, I needed to trick at least 6,000 points. That put a lot of pressure on me, but I didn’t want to let the team down. I went out and did the best trick run I had ever skied in a tournament. It was an amazing feeling just being part of the junior team, but for us to all go out and do our best and win the gold medal was incredible.”

John Pressendo contributed 929.49 points toward the team’s total score based upon his score of 14.5 points in the semifinals of slalom. He placed fourth in slalom and tricks.

U. S. Senior Team Earns Silver Medal

Athletes competing as members of the U.S. Senior Barefoot Water Ski Team were: Adin Daneker of Olympia, Wash., Brian Heeney of Helena, Mont., Brian Hetherington of Winter Haven, Fla., Jerry Kanawyer of Byron, Calif., and Heather Towers of Venetia, Pa. The U.S. Senior Team earned the silver medal by tallying 5,171.30 points. Australia won the gold medal with 5,391.59 points and Germany earned the bronze medal with 4,142.13 points.

Towers earned silver medals in women’s slalom, tricks and overall, recording scores of 11.5 points, 2,000 points and 2,553.4 points, respectively. She contributed 2,553.37 points toward the team’s total score. Daneker, who a year ago was recovering from reconstructive knee surgery, earned the bronze medal in men’s jumping with a distance of 77 feet and the silver medal in men’s overall with a score of 2,574.9 points. He contributed 1,892.12 points toward the team’s score. “I was able to accomplish my first goal, which was to contribute to the team,” Daneker says. “As for my personal goal of winning the overall, I came up a little short. But I was pretty happy overall after recovering from ACL reconstruction one year ago. It was a back-and-forth battle from start to finish with the three top skiers changing places every round. It all came down to who could adapt and ski the most consistent under the pressure and changing conditions.”

Hetherington contributed 725.81 points based upon his score of 13.5 points in the preliminary round of slalom. U.S. independent competitor Betsy Anderson of Atlanta, Ga., earned the bronze medal in women’s tricks with a score of 1,480 points.

Other event winners were: Ne w Zealand’s Bevan Kelly (men’s jumping and overall), Australia’s Ken Derry (men’s slalom), Canada’s Don Schwartz (men’s tricks), Australia’s Gizella Halasz (women’s slalom, tricks and overall), and Great Britain’s Kim Rowswell (women’s jumping).

For complete results, visit USAWATERSKI.org and click on the “Barefooting” icon at the top of the home page.


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