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The Masters At Callaway Gardens - 2004 : By Gordon Slingerland

Masters 2004 At Callaway Gardens - Coverage By Gordon Slingerland
     The name conjures up visions of elite athletes at the top of their game.  Just getting invited is an honor, but these top athletes from all over the world didnít come to be honored, they came to win.

     Arriving late Friday after the juniors had finished elimination rounds, the site was virtually empty except for a few support people milling around. Itís nice to see a site set up and ready for the show but without the crowds. You can get a feel for the site and whatís to come. All the vendor wares are in perfect order, the displays from Correct Craft and Chevrolet are undisturbed and polished. The grounds are in near perfect condition and banners are flying all around. You know something spectacular is about to happen and anticipation fills the air.
Masters 2004 - Callaway Gardens - Vendor Showcase
     At the end of the beach is a huge video screen and the pavilion has video screens set up for perfect viewing as well. If, you can take you eyes off the action on the water.  Unlike the Pro Tour stop at Trophy lakes last year, this event is big in every sense of the word. Big venue in Callaway Gardens, big lake in Robin lake, big pavilion which seats 2000, big beach for the big crowds estimated at close to 3000 and big scores.  Every skier in Menís Slalom finals ran a full 38 off pass.  Every skier in Menís Trick finals scored over 10,000 points.

     Saturday morning the tournament started right on time with the Junior Masters final rounds.
Girls Tricks was won by Whitney McClintock
Girls Slalom was won by Whitney McClintock
Girls Jump was won by Danyelle Bennett.

Danyelle placed second in Slalom and Tricks giving her a third consecutive overall title.

     In the boys division; 
Tricks was won by Jason McClintock
Slalom was won by Matteo Ianna
Jump was won by Felipe Miranda
Jason won the overall by a mere 4 points over Felipe to finish out a thrilling Junior Masters.

     After a brief break the elimination rounds of the Masters began.  There was a very serious atmosphere lingering over the athletes during this round.  The joking, kidding around and general good natured support for each other was not as evident as other events Iíve attended. This was serious business. To make it to the Masters and not advance to Sundays finals was not an option.

     First was womenís tricks, Brigette Lethem took the first round lead with a score of 7110, followed by Regina Jaquess 7010, Mandy Nightingale 6960, Brandi Hunt 6340 and Rhoni Barton 6320 to advance to Sundays final round.

     Second was menís tricks, Russell Gay was phenomenal in his opening round leading with 10,910 points, followed by Jimmy Siemers 10,680, Jaret Llewellyn 10,550, Cory Pickos 10,340 and Nicolas Leforestier 10,240 all advancing to Sundays final round

     Then the action really heated up with Womenís Slalom. For this round the starting dock used was at the far left end of the lake.  Emma Sheers and Natalie Hamrick were tied for the first round lead with 3 Ĺ @ 38 off. Followed by Sarah Gatty-Saunt with Jill Knutson and Karen Truelove tied for the last qualifying positions.  Scores were a little low in the womenís slalom as a strong wind was blowing down course as a storm approached. 
Masters 2004 - Beachside At Robin Lake
     Menís Slalom was next and started with Steve Cockeram, Steve and Wade Cox were the only two skiers not to transfer to the final round.

     Chris Parrish ran a near flawless 39 Ĺ pass setting up a headwind 41. It was raining off and on and he was able to get to the 3 ball scoring 2 Ĺ at 41 off setting a new course record and taking the lead. The record was in dispute as some were saying that was the current record and not the 2 at 41 he surpassed.

     William Asher had a strong run of 4 @ 39 Ĺ off and this was tied by Jeff Rodgers and Jamie Beauchesne.  The skyís then let loose a torrential downpour that lasted for 5 minutes or so leaving Andy Mapple as the lone skier on the dock. Skiing was suspended until the rains stopped about 10 minutes later.

     With soft water and little wind Andy took advantage of the conditions and quickly ran through the 32, 35 and 38 passes with ease. With the slow water and lack of wind his 39 pass was a beautiful run, but after dropping it was announced the boat speed was slow. He would have to run it again just to try and hold his top seed for the finals. And run it again he did, back to back 39 Ĺ passes, thatís what makes him one of the greatest who ever skied. When he needs it, he delivers.

     On his 41 pass he made the 1 and 2 ball look easy and with a slight headwind helping he was able to get around the 3 ball and back to the wake.  Chris had held the course record for all of about 30 minutes. Andy had just taken it away. He seems to do that to people. Just when they get to his level, he raises it another notch. Womenís jumping and Menís skifly followed the Slalom event.

     In the womenís event Emma set the standard once again setting a new course record and taking the lead with 174í. She was followed by June Fladborg 162í, Jakalyn Hunter 156í, Rhoni Barton 155í and Brandi Hunt tying Jennifer Kaiser at 154í with Brandi advancing to the finals.

     For Menís Ski Fly the ramp was facing a near perfect headwind.  Scot Ellis took a horrendous crash on his third jump. He was gingerly taken to shore and placed on a backboard for transport to the local hospital. With several flyers to go they had to put their friendís crash and injury out of their minds and focus on the job at hand.  The very next flyer Jason Seels hit 277 feet showing just how much focus these guys have.  So advancing to the finals was leader Freddy Krueger 282í, Jaret Llewellyn 280í, Jason Seels 277í, Kyle Lane 267í and Mark Lane 267í

     Sunday morning opening ceremonies started right on time.  After the national anthem was a parade of skiers in front of the pavilion and the huge crowd that had gathered on the beach.  At precisely 11:30 the first womenís tricker was off the dock. This event isnít sponsored by Chevy Vortex Engines and Rolex for nothing. Everything runs smooth and like precision clock work.

     Brigitte Lethem took the trick title with a score of 7080 points. Followed by Brandi Hunt 7000, Regina Jaquess 6590, Mandy Nightingale 6560. and Rhoni Barton 6320.

     Menís trick had some high scores and breathtaking flips. Itís hard to fathom that some of these guys can perform over 20 tricks in 20 seconds. Itís no wonder the scores are delayed by a few minutes. Five judges have to cross reference each other and be in agreement before itís official.  Nicolas Leforestier had an unbelievable pass of 11,570 to take the win. But not without some pressure from Jimmy Siemers 11,150, Cory Pickos 11,130, Russel Gay 10,990 and Jaret Llewellyn 10,560. All the competitors were at the top of there game today.

     After wakeboarding finals the starting dock was moved to the front of the pavilion for a nice platform in which to see the athletes prepare to do battle. You were able to see them wish their fellow competitors well and instantly switch to a serious mode and prepare for their turn on the water. As each skier prepared I noticed no one would interfere with their concentration. This is the Masters, not The Backwater Open. Itís all about winning. Getting here is tough enough, second place will not do.
Masters 2004 At Callaway Gardens
     Womenís Slalom came first with Jill Knutson skiing first and setting an early bench mark of 3 at 38 off by opting up due to a considerable and constant headwind.  Her decision proved to be a good one as she held the lead while skier after skier failed to beat it. Karen Truelove posted 2 Ĺ at 38, Sarah Gatty-Saunt posted 2 at 38 while Natalie Hamrick could only post a score of 1 Ĺ at 38 off.  Emma was last and showed again why she is considered the favorite at any tournament. Coming out she ran a strong 35 off pass and made the 4 buoys at 38 she needed for the win. Running the full pass looked as if it would not have been a problem as she was skiing strong.

     On the Menís side William Asher was first off the dock and posted 2 Ĺ at 39 Ĺ off. Jeff Rodgers was next and could only get 4 at 39 Ĺ off.

     Jamie Beauchesne was the first to run a full 39 Ĺ pass with the tail wind and with the ease he ran it I was expecting a full 41, but he got pulled out at the 2 ball and coasted to the centerline for a confirmed 2 at 41 off.

     Chris Parrish was next and he too made the full 39 Ĺ pass look easy but coming around the 2 ball he nearly blew the tail out but was able to hang on until the wakes for a confirmed 2 at 41 off. His score was in doubt for several minutes while the judges viewed the tape.

     Andy skied last and was behind and fighting the 39 pass from gate to gate but still managed the full pass. At 41 off he ran over the 2 ball and skied back to center, but the judges saw the buoy kick to the outside of his ski. They confirmed 1 buoy at 41 off.

     In the run off between Jamie and Chris, Jamie would ski first off the dock with a headwind at 39 Ĺ off. It was an amazing performance to see him run a full pass at 39 Ĺ straight off the dock. Coming back at 41 off he had a good one ball but got down course at 2 but got the confirmed 2 at 41 off.  Chris had to be shaking his head in disbelief that heíd have to run a full 39 pass just to have a chance. He had a good gate and decent one ball but couldnít turn the two ball. It was as if something was in the water grabbing skiís at the 2 ball.  Jamie is a deserving champion. His skiing was near flawless this weekend. Itís only fitting he win his first Masters Slalom title at Andy Mappleís last.
Pavilion At Robin Lake - Callaway Gardens
     Womenís jumping was next with Emma winning on her first jump and then posting 172 feet. Just 2 feet short of the course record she set the day before. She was followed by June Fladborg 162í, Jakalyn Hunter 162í, Rhoni Barton 156í and Bradi Hunt 148í.

     Menís Ski Fly was probably the most exciting and close match of any before it. And if rumors are true it may be the last Ski Fly at the Masters.  Mark Lane of Georgia got the crowd pumped up with 262í on his second jump, only a few feet from his personal best. His third jump was just as spectacular but for a different reason. Loosing control over the ramp he tumbled through the air landing hard just inches from the in water camera man. A very scary moment indeed. Mark was alright and returned to the dock to a standing ovation as the camera man reevaluated his position in the water.  Next Kyle Eade upped the score to 267í, followed by Jason Seels at 274í.

     Jaret Llewellyn next hit the ramp with purpose and on his first jump set an unbelievable mark of 294 feet. Just 5 feet shy of the world record he owns. The crowd was screaming when he came in for his second attempt, itís hard to imagine but after the first jump there was a let down for his 280 feet second jump. The fans wanted the record broke. On his third attempt he hit the ramp at 73 mph with a 3.2 second hang time, the jump was long but he dropped in with only 292 feet.
     Freddie Kruger was next and the top seed, he would need a personal best to beat Jaret. His first jump was a good one of 275 feet, the crowd started cheering on his second approach and he hit a better jump of 288 feet. With only one jump remaining he waited until the last possible moment, he hit the ramp at an incredible 75 mph, with a 3.3 second hang time, it was long and the crowd was screaming, was it enough? All eyes were on the scoreboard as Freddie skied back in, 293 feet.

     If you had told Freddie he would jump a new personal best at 293 feet, and loose by one foot, he wouldnít have believed you.  Jaret was dockside to help Freddie get his skis up and extended his hand to congratulate Freddie, Freddie just grabbed him and pulled him into the water.  One foot was what he was saying to him. One lousy foot.  I was totally spent and drained as was much of the crowd as we filtered off the Pavilion, it was a great tournament. Records were broken and fortunately no bones.
Robin Lake Beach
     At the awards banquet Andy dropped a bombshell. This was his last Masters and his last year competing. He was retiring after this season.  This sport will have a strong sense of loss without him there competing. He will remain involved with the new Prowaterski organization. And with the number of junior skiers and young fans I saw and the huge crowd in attendance, I think itís safe to say our sport is alive and well.
     Bob Lapoint retired, Sammy and Camille retired, Carl, Denna, Kristi and Michael Kjelander have all moved on but the sport survives. Andy will be missed but just like the great names before him, he will never be forgotten.

     The 45th Masters at Callaway Gardens is in the history books. It was everything it was advertised to be and more.  And just like the athletes that competed, I canít wait until next year.

     Masters Video Gallery         Masters Photo Gallery

Gordon Slingerland





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