Superlatives are not out of place when it comes to this event. Held annually in downtown Melbourne, Australia, the scale of the Moomba Festival is extraordinary. An estimated 1.2 million people celebrated this year and over 200,000 fans attended the Nautique Moomba Masters on the Yarra River, the 57th year of the championships. The City of Melbourne really was the place to be this weekend.
In Waterski Slalom, Tricks and Jump, Course Records were threatened as never before by athletes from 19 countries ! In perfect sunny conditions, Melbourne’s temperamental weather was kind to all with temperature’s reaching 30C and light breezes throughout. The boat used in all Waterski events, the Nautique 200, has pulled 22 World Records since its launch. With five World Record Holders on the entry list, expectations in all events were high. While this was the first major international competition for many from around the world, their layoff winter period did not show in the final results.
The Slalom event attracted the highest scoring athletes on the International Waterski & Wakeboard Federation (IWWF) Ranking List. In the Men’s event, the Course Record of 3 buoys on the short 10.25m line was held by Chris Parrish (USA) and Nate Smith (USA). Over the weekend, this was equalled no less than five times ! In the Prelims, two-time World Champion Nate Smith was the first to reach this mark. In the Semi Finals, he did it yet again but so did Will Asher (GBR), another two-time World Champion, and Frederick Winter (GBR), one of the highest ranked IWWF contenders. In the eight man Slalom Finals, Benjamin Stadlbaur (SUI), second off the dock, surprised all with an outstanding score of 1.5 buoys on the 10.25m line. Thomas Degasperi (ITA), yet another two-time World Champion, raised the bar to again equal the Course Record of 3 buoys on that short 10.25m line. He then sat on the dock, watched and held his breath ! With Will Asher, Frederick Winter and Nate Smith still to go, the huge crowds knew that a rare battle was about to commence. Surprisingly, Winter went down with 5.5 buoys on the 10.75m line – three and half short of Degasperi’s total. World Record Holder Nate Smith was the only challenger remaining. The Melbourne crowds were now on their feet and cheering. Smith is always a sensation to watch. However, this time he was forced to settle for Silver with 1.5 buoys on the 10.25m line. Jumping for sheer joy on the dock, Italy’s Degasperi had just repeated his own 2014 Moomba Masters Gold Medal performance. Stadlbaur won Bronze, his first Moomba medal.
The Women’s Slalom event was much more predictable but just as enthralling. The reason for this is that Canada’s Whitney McClintock, with five Moomba’s under her belt, holder of the Course Record and Title and a past World Champion, is just a bit ahead of all the others at this time. With a score of one buoy on the 10.75m line, she took the Gold Medal. However, she now has a serious contender snapping at her heels. Manon Costard (FRA) is creeping up on the World Record score and is certainly one to watch very closely. Costard took the Silver Medal and Moomba Overall defending champion, Clementine Lucine (FRA), took Bronze.
In Women’s Tricks, the youngest competitors created the sensations. It all began in the Prelims. The Course Record was 9,920 points. Anna Gay (USA), aged 16, astounded all in the Prelims with a score of 10,350 points. Neilly Ross (CAN), aged 15, scored 10,050. All knew that this was the dominant pair. The old Course Record was already gone ! Erika Lang (USA) aged 21, returning from injury, also looks to be on her way back to her World Record performance level. All three athletes are supported by Nautique. In the Semi Finals, Ross and Gay again topped the scores. However, in the Finals, to the surprise of all, Anna Gay went down early on her second pass, giving the Gold Medal to Canada’s Neilly Ross (9920), Silver to Erika Lang (9670) and Bronze to the highly experienced Natallia Berdnikova (BLR) (8730).
Men’s Tricks also had a share of drama. Hot contenders Pierre Ballon (FRA) and Russell Gay (USA), are both capable of scoring over 12,000 points. In the Prelims, true to form, Ballon dominated with a score of 10,730. However, Franck Desboyaux, who has relocated from France to the USA recently, caught all by surprise with a score of 10,580. In the Semi Finals, Desboyaux remained consistent with 10,710 points just ahead of Ballon’s 10,670. Russell Gay and Jimmy Siemers (USA) were also close. In the end, Desboyaux thrilled all with his first Moomba Gold Medal score of 10,630, 470 points ahead of Ballon who took Silver. World Overall Champion Adam Sedlmajer (CZE) took Bronze with a score of 9,920 points.
As the sun began to drop on this scorching Melbourne afternoon, all 200,000 spectators were now ready for the Jump Finals. The atmosphere was electric ! From the very beginning, a pattern emerged in the Women’s event. In the Prelims and Semi Finals, one athlete dominated. Nautique sponsored Jacinta Carroll (AUS) is a local Victorian to her fans. She is the current World Jump Champion and holder of the World Record. Every time she appeared on the starting dock, there was a roar of approval from the huge crowd. With 30 consecutive wins to her credit, could she get closer to the extraordinary 38 straight wins of Deena Mapple (USA) back in 1987-1990 ? To the delight of all, she did just that. In doing so, she actually set a new Course Record of 56.7m / 186ft. Both Alex Lauretano (USA) and Natallia Berdnikava (BLR) also exceeded the 50m barrier to take second and third places.
With eight men now ready for their Jump Finals, the slight head breeze was just what they wanted. As expected, in spite of many other great performances, this was a fascinating duel between World Jump Record holder Freddy Krueger (USA) and Nautique sponsored World Champion Ryan Dodd (CAN). All eyes were also on the 2015 Course Record of 70.6m held by Krueger. Dodd set the scene in the Prelims in coming out on top with a distance of 68.2m. Krueger achieved 67.3m, almost a meter short. In the Semi Finals, Dodd did it again with a massive distance of 70.8m. Krueger reached 68.8m, two meters short. Now all were set for a thrilling Finals. The packed Yarra River arena knew that. This time, all eight Finalists exceeded 60m / 199ft. Back in 1983, 34 years ago, only the great Glenn Thurlow (AUS) achieved this distance here becoming the World’s first to break 200ft with 61.57m. How times have changed. Following a great effort by Zack Worden of 67.5m, Krueger entered the Yarra River. What followed was stunning – with a jump set of 70.2m, 70.4m and finally 72.3m. The roar of the crowd must have reached the entire city of Melbourne! He had just demolished his own Course Record of 70.6m. Instantly, all eyes turned to Ryan Dodd, sitting there on the starting dock with his wife Breanne. What a challenge. It is difficult to describe the extraordinary atmosphere when the hearts of 200,000 people are beating in unison ! Dodd’s first jump distance was 63.1m, his lowest of the weekend. However, his second was 69.7m – just 2.6m off the lead and looked very confident. With a mass of humanity willing him on, his final brave attempt of 63.0m just proved how extraordinary the talent is of the World Record Holder Freddy Krueger. His courage and skill are exceptional. Both he, Ryan Dodd and Zack Worden truly earned their Moomba Masters medals this year.
The Overall medals won by those individuals who can somehow master all three events in Slalom, Tricks and Jump went to Adam Sedlmajer (CZE), Felipe Miranda (CHI) and Dylan Schaffer (USA), and Whitney McClintock (CAN), Jacinta Carroll (AUS) and Anna Gay (USA)
The 2017 Nautique Moomba Masters were organised by the Victorian Water Ski Association and sanctioned by the International Waterski & Wakeboard Federation (IWWF)