10 tightest teams competitions at world water ski championships

World Championships: We Countdown the 10 Closest Team Battles in the History of the Tournament

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World Championships: we countdown the 10 closest team battles in the history of the tournament

10 tightest teams competitions at world water ski championships

The tightest team overall competitions in the history of the Water Ski World Championships.

By Jack Burden


The World Championships have always delivered breathtaking competition, but perhaps the most exhilarating aspect has been the fiercely contested teams’ battles. Originally, these clashes were dominated by the United States, but in recent years, the field has become far more diverse, with four different countries claiming victory over the last three decades. As we approach the 2023 World Championships, the anticipation builds, and we find ourselves reminiscing about the ten most tightly contested team battles in the event’s storied history.

In this prestigious competition, each country assembles a team of six skilled skiers, with a limit of four from each gender. These athletes compete across all three disciplines: slalom, tricks, and jump, with the top three scores from each discipline contributing to the team’s total. This format places a premium on versatile all-around skiers, as teams that lean too heavily on specialists risk lacking depth and the margin for error becomes razor-thin. Join us on a journey through the most thrilling team competitions in the history of the World Championships.

1985 World Waterski Championships in France

Image: WATERSKI Magazine

10. Toulouse, France 1985

Contenders: Australia vs. the United States

Australia

  • Geoff Carrington
  • Sue Lipplegoes
  • Bruce Neville
  • Karen Bowkett Neville
  • Mick Neville
  • Glenn Thurlow

United States

  • Deena Brush (Mapple)
  • Camille Duvall
  • Sammy Duvall
  • Bob LaPoint
  • Lucky Lowe
  • Carl Roberge

Australia’s golden generation secured podium positions in six consecutive World Championships from 1979 to 1989. During this period, they came second to the United States on four occasions. However, it was the 1985 World Championships that marked their closest attempt to dethrone the Americans from the top of the podium. While the Australians boasted arguably the greatest jump team ever assembled, featuring Carrington, Thurlow, Lipplegoes, and Bruce Neville, as well as two of the best overall skiers of the 1980s, Mick and Karen Neville, they couldn’t quite match the star power of the Americans in the slalom event. LaPoint and Camille Duvall clinched gold medals for the United States, with Roberge and Brush also standing on the podium. The United States’ unbeaten streak would remain intact for yet another World Championships.

Key Moment: Lippelgoes’ mixed tournament, in the preliminary round she set a World Championship record of 40.5m (133 feet), but also missed her first pass in slalom.

Winning Margin: 175 points. Equivalent to roughly two passes in slalom.

  1. United States (8,550 points)
  2. Australia (8,375 points)
  3. Great Britain (7,812 points)
Team Canada wins gold at the 1991 World Water Ski Championships in Austria

Team Canada at the 1991 World Championships (image: World Water Skiers)

9. Villach, Austria 1991

Contenders: Canada vs. the United States

Canada

  • Jim Clunie
  • Kreg Llewellyn
  • Jaret Llewellyn
  • Judy McClintock Messer
  • Susi Graham (McCormick)
  • Drew Ross

United States

  • Tory Baggiano
  • Joy Kelley
  • Leza Harrison
  • Mike Morgan
  • Cory Pickos
  • Sherri Slone

Heading into the tournament, the United States boasted an incredible undefeated streak over the 40+ years of World Championships history. However, they were facing a vulnerable situation without their 1980s stars, including Brush, Roberge, and the Duvall siblings. Meanwhile, Team Canada, led by Steve Bush, had been quietly assembling a young team of future superstars, with veteran McClintock Messer anchoring the group. However, it was Kreg Llewellyn who stole the show in Austria. He not only secured medals in trick and jump but also finished as the runner-up in overall. Llewellyn’s margin of defeat was the tightest ever seen in the sport, with Patrice Martin claiming victory by a mere 0.2 overall points.

Key Moment: The U.S. Team selected two trick specialists, Baggiano and Pickos, both of whom failed to secure a podium finish. Yet the Larsen twins, who were not part of the team, claimed the gold and silver medals with the two highest scores of the tournament.

Winning Margin: 159 points. Equivalent to roughly 1,100 points in trick.

  1. Canada (8,191 points)
  2. United States (8,033 points)
  3. France (8,010 points)
Team Belarus wins gold at the 2011 World Waterski Championships in Russia

Image: WaterSkiWorld

8. Dubna, Russia 2011

Contenders: Belarus vs. France

Belarus

  • Herman Beliakou
  • Natallia Berdnikava
  • Oleg Deviatovski
  • Iryna Turets
  • Maryia Vermchuk
  • Aliaksei Zharnasek

France

  • Anais Amade
  • Iris Cambray
  • Jean Babtiste Faisy
  • Clementine Lucine
  • Marion Mathieu
  • Alexandre Poteau

Early falls in the tricks event proved costly for Regina Jaquess, Erika Lang, and Whitney McClintock. Their slips left both the United States and Canada out of contention. From this wreckage emerged Belarus and France as the top contenders. Both countries exhibited exceptional strength in the tricks discipline. France held a clear advantage in slalom, but ultimately, Belarus surged ahead, driven by their remarkable jumping performances. Berdnikava led from the front, clinching three individual gold medals across the tricks, jump, and overall events.

Key Moment: Beliakou jumped a 3 meter (10 foot) personal best in the preliminary round, going over 60 meters for the first time in his life.

Winning Margin: 149 points. Equivalent to less than 5 meters in jump.

  1. Belarus (7,812 points)
  2. France (7,663 points)
  3. United States (7,593 points)
Patrice Martin slalom skiing

Image: InsideTheGames

7. Medellín, Columbia 1997

Contenders: France vs. Italy

France

  • Anais Amade
  • Christophe Duverger
  • Dimitri Gamzukoff
  • Geraldine Jamin
  • Nicolas LeForestier
  • Patrice Martin

Italy

  • Andrea Alessi
  • Patrizio Buzzotta
  • Fabrisio Ciatponi
  • Marina Mosti
  • Christian Rampanelli
  • Irene Reinstaller

In another tournament of upsets, the United States faced an early elimination when both Rhoni Barton and Scot Ellis failed to run their first passes in the slalom preliminaries. The defending champions, France, were then left to defend their title against challenges from Canada and the emerging Italian team, which had not graced the podium in nearly four decades.

Italy fielded arguably their two greatest three-event skiers ever, with veteran Alessi and newcomer Mosti on their team. While France and Italy showed relative parity in tricks and jump, France managed to pull ahead thanks to Martin’s bronze in the slalom event and strong performances from the young talents Amade and Jamin.

Key Moment: Jamin ran close to a personal best in the preliminary round with 1@11.25m (38’ off), finishing one buoy short of the top score.

Winning Margin: 108 points. Equivalent to roughly a pass in slalom.

  1. France (7,758 points)
  2. Italy (7,650 points)
  3. Canada (7,551 points)
Chuck Stearns Water Ski Jump

Image: USA-WWF

6. Milan, Italy 1959

Contenders: Italy vs. the United States

Italy

  • Franco Carraro
  • Piera Castelverti
  • Pietro Marzoto
  • Alberto Penderzani

United States

  • Jim Jackson
  • Mike Osborne
  • Nancy Rideout
  • Chuck Stearns
  • Vicki Van Hook

This World Championships finds its place on the list due to a technicality. The scoring system for teams was changed to the points system we use today for the next event in 1961. While the competition might not have been as tight in relative terms, it marked the closest any team came to putting pressure on the United States during the first two decades of World Championships.

The host nation, Italy, put up a valiant fight against the American superstars. Notably, all five members of the American team would later earn spots in the USA Waterski Hall of Fame. Castelverti’s exceptional tricking skills secured Italy’s first-ever gold medal, and she also clinched runner-up positions in women’s slalom and overall events. However, the Americans proved to be too dominant, securing six out of the eight individual gold medals and two-thirds of all individual medals.

Key Moment: 15-year-old Van Hook’s overall victory ahead of Castelverti and the favorite Rideout. Cypress Gardens, where Rideout was the poster girl, continued to bill her as the World Champion in advertisements for the next two years, only mentioning Van Hook in the fine print.

Winning Margin: 108 points. Probably insurmountable.

  1. United States (602 points)
  2. Italy (507 points)
  3. France (440 points)
Women's Trick podium at the 1977 World Water Ski Championships in Milan

Image: Ultrasport7

5. Milan, Italy 1977

Contenders: the United States vs. Venezuela

United States

  • Deena Brush (Mapple)
  • Camille Duvall
  • Bob LaPoint
  • Cory Pickos
  • Mike Suyderhoud
  • Cindy Todd

Venezuela

  • Maria Esperanza Carrasco
  • Maria Victoria Carrasco
  • B. Quintini
  • Elpidio Rodriguez
  • Carlos Suarez

The first real challenge to the United States’ dominance of the team title emerged in the late 1970s, and it came from Venezuela. The South Americans showcased their prowess in tricks, with both world record holders Maria Victoria Carrasco and Suarez securing gold medals in tricks and finishing as runners-up in the overall standings. An unexpected standout, Rodriguez, even outperformed LaPoint in the preliminary round, achieving the highest slalom score of the tournament.

However, the Americans ultimately held the advantage in the jumping event. Suyderhoud claimed a late-career world title, and LaPoint, Todd, and Duvall all earned medals in the jumping competition. This collective effort in jumping proved to be the difference-maker, allowing the United States to maintain its grip on the team title.

Key Moment: the U.S. took a chance on a 13-year-old trick specialist by the name of Cory Pickos, while he may have only placed 6th, he produced the highest trick score for Team USA.

Winning Margin: 85 points. Only 2.5 meters (8 feet) in jump.

  1. United States (7,614 points)
  2. Venezuela (7,529 points)
  3. Canada (7,118 points)
Team USA wins gold at the 2007 World Water Ski Championships in Austria

Image: Facebook

4. Linz, Austria 2007

Contenders: France vs. the United States

France

  • Anais Amade
  • Nancy Chardin
  • Jean Baptiste Faisy
  • Nicolas LeForestier
  • Clemetine Lucine
  • Marion Mathieu

United States

  • Rhoni Barton Bischoff
  • April Coble Eller
  • Regina Jaquess
  • Mandy Nightingale
  • Cory Pickos
  • Jimmy Siemers

This team’s result was all about the women, as both France and the United States fielded teams consisting of four women and two men for the tournament. The competition remained evenly balanced throughout. After both Amade and Lucine posted scores deep down the 11.25m (38’ off) pass, the American duo of Jaquess and Coble Eller responded by running it. While Lucine secured victory in the tricks event, earning 1,000 points for her team, Barton Bischoff and Nightingale of the United States both finished in the top five.

In the jumping event, there was only one meter separating Lucine, Jaquess, Chardin, Amade, and Barton Bischoff. In the end, the Americans finished on top, but it came right down to the wire.

Key Moment: Lucine broke Tawn Larsen’s World Championship trick record which had stood since 1989.

Winning Margin: 20 points. Less then a buoy in slalom.

  1. United States (8,087 points)
  2. France (8,067 points)
  3. Belarus (7,792 points)
1995 World Waterski Championships in France

Image: Jean-Pierre Serra

3. Roquebrune/Argens, France 1995

Contenders: France vs. the United States

France

  • Christophe Duverger
  • Geraldine Jamin
  • Nicolas LeForestier
  • Patrice Martin
  • Claude Perez
  • Frederique Savin

United States

  • Tory Baggiano
  • Rhoni Barton (Bischoff)
  • Tawn Larsen (Hahn)
  • Brenda Nichols
  • Carl Roberge
  • Sherri Slone

After suffering consecutive defeats at the hands of Canada, the United States was determined to secure a victory and managed to assemble their strongest team since the 1980s. Loaded with overall talent, all four American overall competitors performed exceptionally well, with each of them finishing within the top five. However, the French team had the advantage of competing on their home turf and strategically built their team around a Martin who was performing at the peak of his abilities.

Both teams faced some challenges in the slalom event, as Martin was the only skier from either team to finish in the top five. However, the French team displayed exceptional strength in the trick event, with Savin achieving the highest score among the women during the preliminaries and a young LeForestier posting the top score among the men.

The American team excelled in the jumping event, with Nichols, Roberge, and Slone securing gold, silver, and bronze medals, respectively. When the final results were tallied, it was Team France that emerged victorious in this hard-fought competition.

Key Moment: After failing to ride out a jump in the finals, Martin had to watch from the shore as Roberge, the in form jumper in the world at the time, attempted to squash the French jump scores (all three of which came from the men’s side).

Winning Margin: 19 points. Equivalent to 0.7 meters (2 feet) in jump.

  1. France (8,270 points)
  2. United States (8,252 points)
  3. Canada (8,102 points)
Team Canada wins gold at the 2019 World Water Ski Championships in Malaysia

Image: @iwwfed

2. Putrajaya, Malaysia 2019

Contenders: Canada vs. France vs. the United States

Canada

  • Ryan Dodd
  • Dorien Llewellyn
  • Whitney McClintock Rini
  • Stephen Neveu
  • Paige Rini
  • Neilly Ross

France

  • Pierre Ballon
  • Emma Brunel
  • Manon Costard
  • Tanguy Dailland
  • Thibaut Dailland
  • Louis Duplan-Fribourg

United States

  • Taylor Garcia
  • Anna Gay
  • Brittany Greenwood
  • Regina Jaquess
  • Erika Lang
  • Adam Pickos

The only World Championships where three countries remained in contention right through to the final event was competed in challenging conditions in South East Asia.

The French team initially built a lead through slalom, thanks to Costard’s winning performance and Thibaut Dailland’s impressive preliminary score into 10.25m (41′ off). Canada and the United States caught up in the tricks discipline with strong performances from Llewellyn, Gay, and Ross.

After solid jump scores from Greenwood, Jaquess, and McClintock Rini, it all came down to the men’s jump final. An unknown teenager at the time, Duplan-Fribourg, led the way for France in the preliminaries but wasn’t able to improve in the finals. Garcia managed an extra 10 centimeters for Team USA, extending their lead with only one jumper left to compete. It was Dodd, the final skier of the tournament, who would decide the outcome. Despite the rough conditions, he managed a 67.9-meter (223-foot) jump, securing both the individual jump title and the team gold for Canada.

Key Moment: Canada was in third when Dodd left the dock, but by increasing on his preliminary score by a full 2 meters he squashed Garcia’s and all three French jump scores to leapfrog into first.

Winning Margin: 6 points. Equivalent to 0.2 meters (less than a foot) in jump.

  1. Canada (8,026 points)
  2. United States (8,020 points)
  3. France (7,934 points)

Image: IWSF

1. Singapore 1993

Contenders: Canada vs. the United States

Canada

  • Jim Clunie
  • Susi Graham (McCormick)
  • Jaret Llewellyn
  • Kim De Macedo
  • Judy McClintock Messer
  • Matt Rini

United States

  • Tory Baggiano
  • Britt Larsen (Kovak)
  • Mike Morgan
  • Brenda Nichols
  • Kristi Overton (Johnson)
  • Sherri Slone

After experiencing their first defeat in 1991, the U.S. returned to the World Championships with a determined vengeance. They even convinced Kristi Overton, a previous U.S. Masters trick champion who had shifted her focus to slalom in 1989, to compete in trick and jump again for her country. Canada, on the other hand, faced challenges with their star from the 1991 Worlds, Kreg Llewellyn, unavailable due to injury.

Competition remained intense throughout the championship. Graham and Overton tied in slalom, just two buoys behind the leader. The American team dominated in the tricks event, with Larsen and Baggiano securing individual gold medals. Unfortunately, an early fall for Jaret Llewellyn ruled him out of the final. While Slone managed to secure 1,000 points in women’s jump during the preliminaries, Nichols missed the finals, only scoring 30.8 meters (101 feet) in the challenging conditions. Strong performances from De Macedo and McClintock Messer, who finished second and third in women’s overall, kept Canada’s hopes alive as they entered the men’s jump final.

With no American men in the final, the United States could only watch from the sidelines as Llewellyn improved his first-round score by over two meters, closing in on the Americans’ lead. The fate of the team’s title now rested with the fiery little truck driver, Clunie, who was the last to ski after posting the longest jump in the preliminary round. Team Canada had been good-humoredly teased for their meticulous approach to the team’s competition, including sending scouts to Singapore in advance to arrange accommodation and training, and using portable computers to calculate live results in the overall standings. One thing was certain: the team management would have made sure Clunie knew exactly how far he needed to jump when he left the dock. His best effort was 58.7 meters (192 feet), which might have seemed somewhat disappointing out of context, as it fell short of Andrea Alessi’s lead. However, for Team Canada, it was just enough to secure the title by the narrowest of margins.

Key Moment: De Macedo’s gold medal winning jump, the only individual gold Canada earned in 1993, where she improved her preliminary score by almost 5 meters.

Winning Margin: 2 points. Equivalent to less than a side slide in tricks.

  1. Canada (8,009 points)
  2. United States (8,007 points)
  3. France (7,829 points)
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Chris Llewellyn
5 months ago

Thank you for this fascinating compilation!

Travis Anderson
5 months ago

This was an interesting article to read. The team aspect of the World Championships really makes the tournament intense as illustrated here.
Good job!