Water-Skiing / Carlsberg European Masters: Rain stops jump and gives a champion the hump: Mike Rowbottom on the controversial cancellation of the final day's jumping at the European Masters

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The Independent Online
THERE was good and bad news at the Carlsberg European Masters yesterday. The bad news was that driving wind and rain led to the cancellation of the men's and women's jump finals - a decision which caused the women's defending champion to complain of feeling 'cheated' - and severely diminished what competition remained. The good news was that no more helicopters crashed into the lake.

The shock waves from Saturday's trauma - when a two-seater helicopter bearing a BBC Grandstand cameraman and piloted by John Steven, developer of the competition site at Kirtons Resort, near Reading, cartwheeled into the water and sank - were still washing over the event at the start of the final day.

Thankfully, both men had bobbed straight up to the surface with only minor injuries. The Masters - which had had to alter its schedule and shift operations temporarily to a neighbouring lake - was unable to make a similarly swift recovery.

The thousand or so bedraggled spectators saw slalom victories for Olga Gubarenko, of Russia, and Britain's John Battleday, with overall titles going to Natalia Rumianstseva, of Russia, and the French world champion, Patrice Martin. But the meaningful action in the men's jump competition took place beyond range of the BBC cameras amid the coffee cups and results sheets of the press office, as the chief judge, Kuno Ritschard, consulted with the eight finalists over their willingness to brave winds gusting at up to 45mph.

The deliberations said much about the realpolitik of a sport which is intensely aware of the need to maximise its impact through televised events such as this, which, with a total prize fund of pounds 20,000, was the most lucrative in this year's calendar.

Ritschard offered the choice of carrying on - 'The TV and sponsors will be very happy to have more good jumping' - or letting the previous day's semi-final results stand as the final placings and putting on a demonstration.

Four voted for carrying on with the competition; four against. Steffen Wild, of Germany, argued that the conditions would make the final a lottery. He was the leading qualifier. The defending title- holder, Franz Oberleitner, of Austria, wanted to jump. He was the last qualifier.

It was Ritschard's decision not to go ahead with the final - 'I don't want to have an accident,' he said. A debate over the logic of staging a demonstration if conditions were deemed unsafe for the final proper was brought to a sudden close by the offer of an extra pounds 1,400 in prize- money for a scratch competition. The winner stood to win pounds 500.

The cancellation of the women's jump final - after two of the four involved had said they were unwilling to take part - enraged Nicola Huntridge, the 18-year-old from Doncaster who won the title last year and had qualified from the semi-finals in third place. 'I feel like I have been cheated,' she said.

It was not just the opportunity of defending her title which had gone. The standard bonus of dollars 2,000 ( pounds 1,300) paid by her swimwear sponsors for each television appearance had also sunk without trace.

Philippa Roberts, the 33-year-old doctor who has won 10 national overall titles, disagreed with Huntridge. 'My experience told me that it was not worth going out to jump in those conditions,' she said. 'Nicola does not have that much experience. It was too dangerous. I want to be able to walk.'

Results, Sporting Digest, page 27

(Photograph omitted)

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