Canuck fave just a pup

STEVE MACFARLANE

, Last Updated: 10:40 AM ET

Having her whole family at the World Water Ski Championships is easier when they happen to take place in Whitney McClintock's home country.

But this is the first time since 1979 it's happened.

So forgive the 19-year-old for wanting all her loved ones to be a part of it.

Even Baby, her chihuahua puppy, is in town for this week's worlds taking place at Predator Bay, starting tomorrow just southeast of Calgary.

Looking for an overall title when competition wraps up on the weekend, she might also be looking for a dog-sitter before it begins.

"Actually, dogs aren't allowed on-site, so I don't know exactly where Baby's gonna be this week," McClintock said over the phone from her hotel room as she played with her prized pup.

"Hopefully, I can smuggle her in."

Coming away with gold at the worlds would be a nice steal for her, too.

She's Canada's most promising athlete in women's water skiing. And 20 years younger than her counterpart on the men's team, Jaret Llewellyn, who despite a sore shoulder and ankle after a crash a few weeks ago in Russia, represents the country's best opportunity for overall gold.

Llewellyn was already making a name for himself on the water in his early 20s when McClintock first put on a pair of skis at just two years old.

Well ... her parents, Jeff and Sharon had to put them on her.

The McClintocks run a water-ski school in Cambridge, Ont., and wanted their daughter to follow in their footsteps.

"You know there's dedication from the parents when they have their kids out on the water when they're that young," Whitney McClintock said with a laugh.

"My dad has actually joked saying that he got me out on skis before I could say 'no.' "

You won't hear any argument from Whitney now. But she wasn't the first McClintock kid to be tested so young.

"They had done it with my brother two years earlier. I guess once you do it with one kid, why not do it with the other one?" said the reigning world junior overall record holder. "I guess it was a success with my brother, because there's pictures of him smiling with a bottle in his hand while he's skiing.

"I don't think there's many pictures of me. I guess it wasn't as exciting the second time around."

Her elder sibling, Jason, is taking part in the worlds, as well, but Whitney has taken centre stage in the sport they grew up loving.

Remembering her first walk on the water is impossible, but she does recall her first meaningful step toward a career in competition.

"I remember my first tournament, and that was when I was five," McClintock said. "That's my earliest memory of water-skiing -- just doing side slides down the lake."

Maybe that nostalgia is why slalom has become her favourite event.

Although she fares well in the tricks event (where they rack up points for amazing moves on a single short ski in the boat's wake) and has improved in jump (a pure distance challenge off a massive ramp), she finds the back and forth cuts to be the most refreshing at the moment.

"I don't know what it is," said McClintock, who attends the University of Central Florida and calls Orlando home these days. "It's kind of relaxing or something."

Even with a wounded ankle in 2007 at the worlds in Austria, she managed to make the finals in slalom. People are looking forward to seeing what she can do fully healthy.

Competition is tough with representatives from 35 countries taking part. The names she knows will be at or near the top include current overall world champ Clementine Lucine of France, American Regina Jaquess, Natalia Berdnikova of Belarus and Greece's Angeliki Andriopoulou.

"It's a really great field of girls," McClintock said. "The scores are going to have to be really high this weekend."

So will the sides of her handbag if she intends on sneaking Baby in to watch her compete.

STEVE.MACFARLANE@SUNMEDIA.CA


Videos

Photos