Canucks carve way to final

ERIC FRANCIS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:32 AM ET

Turning into the valley housing one of Calgary's best-kept sporting secrets, you're instantly greeted by the excitable tones of a former British darts announcer.

Adding a theatrical flair to his descriptions of the women's preliminary slalom event at Predator Bay, the man on the mic reached a feverish pitch late yesterday afternoon when two Canadian women stole the show at the World Water Skiing championships.

To the delight of more than a thousand rubber boot-clad spectators lining the tight, man-made lake located 25 minutes southeast of downtown Calgary and mere minutes from Carnmoney Golf course in DeWinton, Whitney McClintock and Breanne Wagner took the top two spots to land in Sunday's 12-skier final.

In an event that sees the gals carve through six buoys on course before shortening the rope almost a metre every pass, the winner is the one who lasts longest. With the boat travelling 55 km/h through the centre of the lake, the women pass each buoy single-handed only to slingshot violently across the course at upwards of 75 km/h to the next marker. Stunning to watch.

By day's end, the Canadians were the only two to make all six turns with an 11.25-metre rope, sparking a rather chilled and curious crowd to roar its approval first when Wagner cleared one buoy at 10.75 metres, topped only by McClintock's two buoys with the same rope.

"Turning (the fourth buoy) is so close to the stands and the fans were going crazy -- it's awesome," said 19-year-old McClintock of Cambridge, Ont., a former model whose brother is also on the six-person Canadian squad.

"I think there's a lot of excitement we're taking positively. Breanne just went out and did an amazing job giving a personal best -- she set the feeling for Canada today.

"We've been all over the world but for us to be at the top of the world at home -- you couldn't ask for more."

Whether those in attendance braved the threat of showers to see the event's first appearance in Canada in three decades or to see the band The Dudes on the island stage, you can easily see the potential for a brilliant weekend. Not just for McClintock or the 25-year-old Surrey, B.C. native Wagner, but for anyone interested in taking in the aptly-named Drenched music celebration enveloping the competition.

Beer gardens, food stations, a secondary stage, mini-putting, a climbing wall and a kids' play area enhance the unique scene all made possible by land owner/water ski enthusiast Rick Alsip, who turned a pair of spring-fed beaver ponds into two world-class tourney lakes to host the Predator Bay Water Ski Club.

"Kind of hard to believe a group of guys who wanted a place to hang out is now hosting the worlds, but 90% of the competitors have said this is one of the most beautiful sites the worlds has ever been held at," said event CEO Dan Belcic, laughing when told it was quite an accomplishment to host the water ski worlds in a city with no water.

"Funny you say that because three tournament boat dealers -- Alberta's Mastercraft, Malibu and Tige -- sell more boats here than anywhere else in the world. So Albertans love their water ski and wakeboard boats."

While Canada has long finished top five in the world thanks to studs like current world champ Jaret Llewellyn of Innisfail and Olds' Ryan Dodd (Wagner's fiance), the womens' results yesterday were stunning.

"A lot of people are saying because the water is cold it feels different -- but we're used to it because we've trained here," said McClintock.

As crazed as the announcer was during women's slalom action, he gets even more into it for the jump and trick events that continue through the weekend.

As will the crowds.


Photos