Keith Elliott at Large / Waterskiing: Heaney brothers cut a dash with splash: Teenage fraternal rivals get up to new tricks as they look to carry on an impressive British tradition

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The Independent Online
THE NEXT 40 seconds will be critical for Julian Heaney's ambition to become the world's top waterskier. Who would have expected this kid to be in the tricks final of Europe's richest event anyway? The programme for the Carlserg Export Masters certainly didn't. While it tips Heaney's brother, Nicholas, 19, as 'one to watch', Julian, just 17, doesn't even get a mention.

Unknown youngsters do not come along and beat some of the world's best skiers. What the programme does not know is that the brothers have spent the winter in Florida (there's nothing like an alligator lake to improve your technique) under the tutelage of world jumps champion Sammy Duvall, with help from the slalom professional Marco Bettensini and Russel Gay, the world No 7 at tricks: 'We've brought back lots of new tricks that no one over here is doing,' Nicholas says.

Trick skiing is the least glamorous but arguably the most technically difficult of the three waterski disciplines. To the uninitiated, it is impossible to appreciate the complexity of two 20-second 'passes'.

A flash manoeuvre such as a front somersault may score highly (a double somersault, the trick skier's Holy Grail, is worth 1,000 points) but quick, less glamorous moves such as 180-degree turns or moving across the wash can accumulate points faster and be safer. Even top skiers often take an ignominious tumble. Scoring tricks is so hard that only First Class judges can officiate on an event like the Carlsberg. (They do it by watching the skis rather than the skiers).

The Heaney brothers are concentrating on their trick skiing. 'As we get stronger, we'll do better at slalom and jumps, but you can never catch up on tricks,' Julian says wisely.

Daily weight-training and kick-boxing help their strength, but most of their waking hours are spent waterskiing, and they have no ambitions to do anything else. It is all made easier because last June they opened their own school at Kielder Water, the 2,700-acre reservoir near their home in Hexham, Northumberland. But this is not a rich dad's whim to please his offspring. It is the only ski school for 160 miles, north or south.

'Although we got help to set it up, we want to do it all on our own,' Julian said. 'We don't expect our parents to support us.'

Their business sense is remarkable for a pair of teenagers. Unasked, they supplied me with individual business cards, a school brochure, and CVs showing their occupation as pro waterskiers and part-time models; their 1994 ambition is to be in every British team and improve facilities at the ski school; while their dreams are to win the US Masters and be overall world champion. Perhaps they'll share the title.

Nicholas is two inches taller, at 6ft 2in, British tricks champion and European No 2 at Under-21 level.

Julian was third overall in the national Under-17 championships last year, but lost several weeks by concentrating on his O levels. Still, he got 10 'O' Levels. He is also our best hope of a medal in the World Junior Championships in Mexico this August, and could even win it.

Individuals, maybe, but they work and play as a team. 'We've an advantage over everyone else because we are constantly helping each other,' Nicholas says. 'We're learning twice as fast.'

They even share any money they win. Although having their own school means free skiing, they face long journeys every weekend because most competitions are in the south. The Carlsberg, the UK's only major waterski event this year, is at Reading and the brothers have slept in their van for four nights to save on hotel costs.

So even pounds 200 for fifth place would be invaluable. Their hopes are hampered when Nicholas cuts his foot badly on the rocky shore, just before his run. He falls at the end of his first run, so fails to complete a high-scoring trick, while on the return run an overhead flip is successfully executed, but just outside the 20-second limit. His score is 5,550.

Julian has never beaten his brother, and somehow you expect him to fall or bodge his routine. This is, after all, the most prestigious event he has ever skied in. But with remarkable maturity, he completes the first run unscathed for a 2,780 score, and does even better on the return run, with 3,280 points for a 6,060 score. He is, incredibly, in the lead.

The favourite, Alexander Minenok of Belarus, who had 8,530 points to reach the final, falls on both runs, but his team-mate, Oleg Nadin, tots up 7,810. Still, it means Julian is second. He wins pounds 800, and his brother gets pounds 200 for fifth. 'I didn't even ski very well. I missed out a couple of tricks,' Julian says in a dazed voice.

It is too early to say that we have discovered another waterski star. But it certainly looks as if Julian and Nicholas are continuing the extraordinary British presence in the sport, which has produced five world records, six world champions, eight European records and 55 European champions.

(Photograph omitted)