They may come from a land ‘Down Under’, but Australian Wakeboard athletes demonstrated that they also excel at going up and over. At the IWWF World Wakeboard Championships in Buenos Aires their riders emerged with three gold medals. These Championships saw probably the single greatest concentration of precious metals in Australian hands since the boom-town days of the Ballarat Gold Rush.
If you enjoyed watching the snowboard events at the Winter Olympics, then you would also appreciate the spectacular action of its aquatic cousin Wakeboarding.
Riders use the wake of the speedboat to give them natural lift to perform their jumps and tricks, whilst at the same time they must hold on to the cable attached to the boat. For Rebecca Gange, whose podium-topping runs included the crowd-pleasing Tootsie Roll and Moby Dick somersaults, her gold medal in the Women's Championship was a reward for all the hard work put in after coming back from a lengthy injury. “After my knee surgery I lacked confidence. I trained hard this summer in Australia, I did not try anything new. I got my stuff, I got consistent and now it has paid off.” Dallas Friday, the 2009 champion of The World Games in Chinese Taipei, came closest to displacing the Australian from the top step of the podium, but over-compensated trying a difficult Off Axis Back 3, and so the American legend had to settle for the silver medal.
The final podium place was taken by Chiara Virag of Italy, the twin sister of Alice Virag. Alice was the best performer of the two during the 2017 edition of The World Games. In Buenos Aires, Alice also finished third in the Junior Women section, placing behind compatriot Julia Molinari and inevitably Australian rider Zahra Kell.
Wakeboarding well-known in Birmingham
The sports programme of The World Games 2021 will be published in April. Last year the Alabama city hosted a very successful stop on the Pro Wake Tour, where enthusiastic fans saw spectacular action taking place on a beautiful lake; bronze medallist on that occasion was Cory Teunissen. The Australian rider certainly made a splash in the World Championships, and that was not just because he over-rotated whilst performing a Double Half Cab. An athlete is allowed to complete his run in Wakeboard even if he falls, and Teunnisen made the most of his reprieve, dazzling the fans with his high-altitude acrobatic moves including a Whirlibird 5, to take yet another Australian gold.
Whilst Italian Massimiliano Piffaretti did manage to keep his hand attached to the cable during his exciting run, his leaps over the boat did not have as much air as his rival and so he had to settle for the silver medal. The bronze medal was claimed by Cory's compatriot Nic Rapa. Speaking about the difficult conditions on the water, Rapa said: “Every ride I have had, it's been pretty tough. My run in the final is my normal contest run, but I have not been able to put it together all week until now, so I am really stoked.” For Wroclaw 2017 medallists Shota Tezuka (1st) and Guy Firer (3rd) it was a final to forget, as the Japanese and Israeli riders plunged into the water on both their runs.
The exuberant home fans also had plenty to cheer as Alejo de Palma claimed the Men's Masters title and his fellow Argentinian Ulf Ditsch became the first rider ever to land a Dum-Dum 540 in competition! His spectacular somersault was only rewarded with silver in the Men's Junior competition, however, as the gold medallion was plundered not by Captain Kidd, but by the admirable Luca Kidd from Great Britain.
Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires
Wakeboard is not the only sport in The World Games running a high-level competition in Buenos Aires this year. In the Autumn the Argentinian capital will play host to the Youth Olympics, and a number of sports are set to make their Olympics debut. Given that the tango was born in the city, DanceSport had to be included in the programme, but the sporting action will feature break-dancing crews rather than sultry couples. Olympic medals will also be presented in Beach Handball, Acrobatic Gymnastics, Sport Climbing, Karate, Rugby and Roller Speed Skating. The last-mentioned sport has recently had the honour of seeing local skater Andrea Gonzales and the Colombian double champion of The World Games Andreas Filipe Munoz appointed as Athlete Role Models for Buenos Aires Youth Olympics. Our best wishes go to all the athletes and federations from sports in The World Games family that will travel to Argentina later this year.
Brian Salmon for The World Games