Saturday, 25th. August 2001

We were on site at 5.30 this morning – and left the Ogata Waterski arena at 7.00pm – a lifetime later. Here is what happened in between !

Just imagine an event which includes the Preliminaries for Men’s Tournament Tricks, Women’s Tournament Slalom, Women’s Tournament Jump, Men’s Barefoot Tricks, Women’s Barefoot Tricks, Men’s Wakeboard, Men’s Barefoot Jump and Women’s Barefoot Jump – and include three Chief Judges, two Jump Ramps, two Slalom Courses, a Trick Course and a Wakeboard Course. The average life expectancy of each of the team of Officials was reduced by ten years in this past 24 hours.

The three Tournament events were all cliff hangers. Chief Judge, Dimos Alexopoulos did a great job. In 90% humidity, hot 29C sunshine and very light breezes on mushy water, only six Men and four Ladies could win a place in tomorrow’s Sunday Finals.

It was very much a British day in Men’s Tricks. ‘Only 6 places in the Final. The first Skier off the dock, Simon Siegert from Colombia, got a new Personal Best of 6120 – good start. Warren Quinn of South Africa did likewise with 3630. After 21 Skiers, Britain’s Jason Seels score of 9020 was only 200 behind Patrice Martin’s winning score. As this is an Overall event, that tight gap was significant. In third place was Britain’s Tom Asher with 8500. As today was his 21st birthday, he could do no wrong. The other three finalists were George Hatzis (Greece), Scott Smith (USA) and Rodrigo Mirando (Chile). In Women’s Slalom, only four got to the Final. Rhoni Barton (USA) is skiing better that we have seen for years. Her 3.5 buoys at 12m set the standard. It was tricky water with too little wind to clear the soupy conditions. Again, Britain’s Sarah Gatty-Saunt equalled Rhoni’s lead performance. Angeliki Andriopoulou (Greece) came as close as you can get with 3 @ 12m – and Elena Milakova’s 1.5 @ 13m was enough to get her there on Overall points. The last Tournament battle was Women’s Jump. Great Ramp, great Correct Craft boat – but dead hot air didn’t help. Russia’s Elena Milakova reminded us all that she is on a planet of her own at the moment – and her 51.4m proved it. USA’s athlete Rhoni Barton’s 47.3m proved her Overall strength. Britain’s Sarah Gatty-Saunt came through again with 42.8m and Angeliki Andriopoulou from Greece took her Final spot with 45.9m, in spite of an arm strain.

Normally we would go home at this point. Enter the unknown ! We moved on to Men’s Barefoot Tricks and Women’s Barefoot Tricks. New boats, new Chief Judge – Claire Willard - new Judges, new Athletes, new Courses. You had to be there to appreciate the talent. Imagine Line Step-Overs at 72kph. Imagine Front Flips from Wake to Wake. Nobody got killed ! It was a fantastic demonstration of skill. Nadine de Villiers (South Africa) is a rare talent. Her score of 2100 points was 30 ahead of the USA star Rachel George. The Finals battle will be a show stopper. Also there at the top were Norway’s Kirsten Gronvik (1150) and Germany’s Svenja Hempelmann (880) The Men used up all their nine lives with awesome competition. Keith St Onge (USA) was unbeatable with 13.5 points. Germany’s Terry Gregory scored 11.3 – just 0.3 ahead of Dutch Tricker Evert Aartsen. The last two Final’s places went to Don Baker of Canada and David Small of Great Britain.

Normally you would definitely be ready for going home at this stage. Roll on the techno music, the Tantrum riders plus a new Chief Judge – Colin Harte – new Judges, new Boats, new Course and new Athletes. It was men’s Wakeboard time. Eight to get to the Final. Scarecrows, Back Rolls, Toe Side 180’s, KGB’s and big Elephants. With 280,000 Riders in Japan, this was a major crowd participation event. Six of the eight Finalists were declared as the sun was setting – Rodo Vinh-Tung (France), Morgan Krausse (RSA), Domu Narita (Japan), Fabrizio Benelli (It), Don Nott (GBR) and Manabu Nagatsuka (Japan). Two more will come from the wild card system announced later. Great event.

Normally at this time you would already be at home. It’s almost dark. A Barefoot Ramp is smaller than your front door and visibility is probably a necessary factor for your regular Athlete. Barefooters are different – and when they want to jump, they jump. Commentating in the semi darkness is done by intuition – but what an event we had. Hard to believe that this is only the Preliminaries. Both of the two best Women Jumpers in the World made it through – Nadine de Villiers with an inverted 17.1m – and Rachel George. Rachel got THREE personal best scores – 13.6m, 13.8m and 13.9m. Norway’s Kirtsen Gronvik, took third. Now it’s really dark – and 12 unhappy Men were told that they were rescheduled for Barefoot Jump to tomorrow Sunday. The alarm is set for 5.00am – again.

Des Burke-Kennedy

Akita, 1.15am