The slalom is similar to the one on snow: a skier follows his towboat through the entrance gate and, while the boat takes a direct course, he cuts a crisscross pattern around six turning buoys. After a first run the boat increases speed (from 34 to 36 mph for men, 32 to 34 mph for women), and then the towline is shortened, first by 12 feet and then in six-foot stages. The skier's run ends with a fall or a missed buoy.
In jumping, boat speed and the tow-line are constant, but skiers increase their speed going into the six-foot-high ramp by a "double wake cut," that is. cutting out as far as the rope will allow on the far side of the ramp, then cutting hard back to it for the jump. "Tricking," easily the most difficult of the three events, permits any speed for the tow-boat, any length of towline and any trick routine the skier favors in his two 20-second runs.
For this tournament the U.S. fielded probably its strongest team ever. In addition to Suyderhoud, who won the men's overall title in Quebec two years ago, there were Ricky McCormick and Alan Kempton, two veterans of the 1967 team, and 14-year-old Wayne Grimditch, a rising superstar in all phases of competition. Grimditch, despite his tender years, drew a special invitation to the prestigious Masters tournament at Callaway Gardens, Ga. last month, sailed through that contest and won a rare opportunity to make the world team.
"He just started on the six-foot ramp a month ago," said Rothenberg on the day of the preliminary jumping event. "He doesn't know enough to have nerves. You just wind him up and say, ' Wayne, there's the ramp,' and he's gone."
If the men's competition was to be one-sided, competition for women was almost nonexistent. Appearing in her third world tournament for the U.S. was Elizabeth (Liz) Allan—"the best jumper, the best tricker, the best slalom performer, the best woman skier who ever lived, period," according to one expert observer. At 18, Liz, from Winter Park, Fla., won the overall four years ago in Australia but flopped at the last world tournament. She has a tendency to become bored with lack of competition and she was beaten at the team trials by Christy Lynn Weir, a tall, lithe high school cheerleader from McQueeney, Texas, who completed the American team.
In Copenhagen, Liz quickly reasserted her superiority by placing first in all three preliminary events—winning the overall women's championship. "I think the boys have gotten me interested in skiing again," she explained. "Mike is teaching me how to spring on the jump. I haven't got that sick attitude anymore. I think now that I can do anything I want to do."
World rules stipulate that team and individual overall championships are decided strictly on first-round totals, but in the men's division most of the excitement was packed into the last two days of the weeklong meet. Suyderhoud, an intense, thickly muscled college sophomore from San Anselmo, Calif., had picked up a first place in the first-round slalom, a fourth in the tricks and trailed Bruce Cockburn of Australia (who won the tricks) by 10 points going into the jumping contest. Thus, the jumps would decide the overall champion.
In the Georgia trials Mike had jumped 162 feet—a world record—and he expected an easy time of it in his best event. He needed only a one-foot margin over Cockburn to beat him and sew up the overall title. Of the six men in contention for the overall—Suyderhoud, McCormick, Cockburn, Colin Faulkner of Australia, George Athans of Canada and Roby Zucchi, the Italian champion—Mike was the only one to jump early. His teammates call him "technical Mike" for his exhaustive analysis of skiing techniques, and first he went down the course and passed without making his jump. ("He's figuring it out now," said Rothenberg, on shore. "He's finding out exactly where he wants to cut and how. He'll play it cozy.")
But Suyderhoud's caution was costly. His jump on the next run was a low (for him) 130 feet and his second jump was only five feet better.
"You've blown it! What happened?" shouted his father, back at the dock.