Just no chillin' water ski ace

WES GILBERTSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:36 AM ET

Javier Julio insists it's far too soon to be thinking about winning any sort of medal.

Asked yesterday what he's looking forward to as the stakes are raised at the world water ski championship, the slalom ace from Argentina shrugged and replied: "I just hope the weather gets a little bit better and the temperature gets a little bit higher."

The forecast suggests he'll get his wish.

If he keeps this up, he could be leaving Calgary with some hardware, too.

On a morning when wind and drizzling rain gave the water at Predator Bay just south of Calgary extra teeth, Julio finished atop the leaderboard through five rounds of men's preliminary slalom competition.

The 31-year-old traced three buoys with a tow-rope length of 10.75 metres, putting himself in great position to advance to the finals as the only contestant so far to turn a buoy at such a short distance, although the top seeds have yet to hit the water.

"It was a little tricky out there -- it was cold, it was rainy and it was early," Julio said.

"It wasn't easy. I had a really good score. I'm really happy with it, but it was really hard work."

Julio is also sitting pretty in the overall men's standings, but the two-time worlds runner-up doesn't want to even think about that just yet.

The battle for an overall world water skiing crown is a bit like competing in a triathlon.

It's great to be the first athlete to finish the swim, but it doesn't mean anything if you can't hold off the rest of the pack during the bike and run.

"I'm not thinking about the gold, to tell you the truth," Julio said. "It's all the way to the last minute, the last jump, the last second of the tournament. It's a long week and anything can happen. I started good, now I just need to hold it."

Innisfail's Jaret Llewellyn is tied for 12th and unlikely to sneak into Saturday's slalom final after clipping his second buoy with a tow-rope length of 11.25 metres yesterday.

The defending world champ barely edged out his son, Dorien, who is competing for Austria and made one pass at 11.25 metres.

On an afternoon when more fans were spotted in toques than swimwear, Natalia Berdnikava of Belarus was tops in the women's tricks preliminary.

Considered one of the world's top trick artists, Berdnikava milked the judges for 7,880 points, booking one of a dozen spots in the final.

Whitney McClintock, the only Canuck on the afternoon program, capped her impressive run with three backflips and blew a kiss to the fans as they showed their approval.

The 19-year-old from Cambridge, Ont., will get another chance to wow the partisan crowd after advancing to the final with a score of 7,680 points, good enough for third spot in the prelims.

"Being in finals is all I can ask for right now," McClintock said.

"It's always nice to be sitting in (Berdnikava's) position, being top seed going into the final, but definitely just getting into the final ... it's one step and you get one more chance.

"It's a good feeling."


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