"If one of us said, 'Oh, the water's too cold for me,' or 'I don't feel right,' the other one always said, 'Come on, get in there,' " says Camille.
"Every day was a tournament at our house," says Sam. "I think that's why they do so well under real tournament pressure."
After competing with each other for years to see who would be the first to jump 100 feet, both Sammy and Camille did it on the same day, jumping 105 feet in 1973. Since then, Sammy's compact (5'8", 158 pounds) body has helped him excel in jumping and tricks, while the statuesque Camille (5'11", 135 pounds) has the height and arm length that make the slalom her best event. Camille, by the way, is a part-time model and actress, a.k.a. the Golden Goddess of Water Skiing, of whom Masters boat driver Jack Walker says, "I pulled her when she was a little bitty 10-year-old, but—ooooh, mama—look at her now!"
Sammy coaches Camille in jump, and she coaches him in slalom, although they have worked together so long each feels free to critique the other in any event. On the water, they communicate with that understanding bluntness peculiar to siblings. On a recent afternoon at their jointly run ski camp at Sammy's lake-front home in Windermere, Camille was driving the towboat while her brother practiced jumps.
Seen from the boat, a Sammy Duvall jump is scary. As Camille drove to the right of the six-foot-high ramp, Sammy swung wide right, almost even with the boat, then cut back sharply, picking up speed. As he slashed across the wake, Camille compensated so perfectly for the force of her brother's pull that the speedometer needle never moved off 35. But centrifugal force raised Sammy's speed to 65 or 70 mph, and he hurtled toward the ramp like the last kid on some giant crack-the-whip. "When I really kick one off I feel like I'm going to plaster myself into the ramp," Sammy said later. This time he jumped poorly. Camille was not pleased.
"You're anticipating the jump and straightening your legs, then your butt sticks out and...." Her voice trailed off as though the jump wasn't worth talking about. He said nothing. "He's just so tired he can't get that extra press," Camille said quietly as she towed him toward the second jump. But this time Sammy soared 185 feet, only six feet off the Masters record.
"Yeah, she was right," he said the next day on a flight to Atlanta. "Camille knows me as well as anyone." It is sister Camille, not Sammy's wife, Sue, who rides in the boat with her hand on the quick-release during Sammy's trick run, and it is he who mans the release for her. It is a job in which each literally holds the other's future in his hand. If a skier falls with a foot in the rope and isn't cut loose instantly, he, or she, will almost certainly suffer knee ligament damage. But if he is cut loose from a stumble from which he might have recovered, he is eliminated from further competition.
"We each know instinctively what the other can recover from," says Sammy.
Besides the strong sibling bond between them, Camille and Sammy both seem to have inherited (or internalized) their father's drive.
"Skiing is a mission for me," says Sammy. "Being a champion is something I have to accomplish." At this year's Masters it looked as if that mission would abort and Sammy would lose the overall championship. He did not make the slalom final, and in the four-man tricks semifinal he found himself competing with the two best trick skiers in the world, Patrice Martin of France and world-record holder Cory Pickos of the U.S. But when Pickos and Martin scored low, after falling before they completed the required two 20-second runs, Sammy, rather than play it conservatively with low-scoring tricks, turned off the radio with which he'd been psyching himself on Survivor's I Can't Hold Back—"I'm going to try with all my might/To make the story line come true"—and went all out in two high-risk 20-trick runs that ended with both victory and a career-high 9,200 points.