The California Pro-Am has never been afraid to mess with a winning formula. Over 20 years of existence, it has gone through name alterations - until 2013 it was known as Diablo Shores Pro-Am - and switched between three venues around Sacramento. This landmark anniversary year, with new disciplines on show and a phenomenal level of skiing, showed just how fresh and vital the longest running event of the Tour is.
In many ways this was a year of 'firsts'. The first time a discipline not called slalom was involved as jump was included for the first time. The first time a skier has run 3 buoys at 41off and missed a final. The first time a skier has gotten around 5 at 41off and lost a head to head. However, as the old saying goes, the more things change the more they stay the same as, by and large it was familiar faces at the top, including a last gasp win from the evergreen, 47-year old Freddy Krueger.
On the slalom side, there were some surprises mixed in with the very high level of skiing during qualifying. Regina Jaquess missed out on her customary qualifying top spot as she fell at 39off in Round 2, ceding that place to the resurgent Whitney McClintock-Rini. In the men's Nate Smith qualified an extremely unlikely 8th and, if Nick Adams had rounded the 3 ball he grazed the inside of, would have been eliminated at the first opportunity. His tied scores with Jon Travers unusually, due to a novel set of rules, put him through based on seeding on the IWWF ranking list. As the first skier to get a full 3 at 41off and miss an 8 skier final, Travers might well feel hard done by. Elsewhere Joel Howley, competing in only his third event since his World Championship win in August 2019 and first outside of his native Australia, took top seed with scores of 5 and 4 at 41off, by far his best and most consistent scores in a pro event.
In the women's head-to-head finals it was business as usual until the semi final bracket between 2021 World and Tour Champion Jaimee Bull and the undefeated in 2022 Regina Jaquess. Jaimee put up a respectable 5@39off but would have been pretty down on her chances of a place in the final as she saw Regina approach 5 early and up course. However a second abnormal slip up of the weekend saw Regina in the water with 4.5, leaving Bull to battle with Whitney McClintock-Rini in an all Canadian final. Bull put up 3 at 39off which Whitney, who is reaching the form that saw her win 3 events before her horror crash in October of last year, duly dispatched as she fell around 6. The most consistent skier of the weekend took her first win since Malibu Open 11 months ago, after 3 second places in as many Tour events in 2022. The consolation for Jaimee is that her 2nd place elevated her to top of the Tour leaderboard. The question is, with 4 events left and McClintock-Rini and Jaquess on the hunt, will she be able to stay there?
On the men's side, top seed Joel Howley was taking out early in his unenviable pairing with 8th seed Nate Smith. Dane Mechler again displayed his improvement this year with 4 at 10.25 as he took out Steve Neveu. Dane couldn't quite cement a good start at 41off in his semi-final with Nate, putting up 3.5 which Nate surpassed with a complete pass. The other semi saw two Brits, Freddie Winter and Will Asher, contest the highest scoring head-to-head ever. Asher, out first, ran 4.5 at 41off only to see Winter get 5 to knock him out. This upped the bar for best ever losing score in a head to head from 4 to 4.5 at 41off, an unfortunate record for Asher. In the final, Smith was out first as he narrowly missed 6 at 10.25. Winter followed, again getting to 5 but, instead of standing up to force a run off, went for the turn - and the win - but agonizingly fell in the process leaving Smith with the win by the tightest of margins. Smith remains unbeaten in 2022 but, perhaps, the chasing pack are getting a touch closer.
The inaugural California Pro-Am jump event was the first in Sacramento for 11 years. The women's event was incredibly competitive throughout with 2 feet separating the top trio of Hanna Straltsova, Sasha Danisheuskaya and Lauren Morgan in the first round and just 1 foot between the same three for the final. Lauren Morgan set the pace with a huge 181ft with two skiers to go. Though they got close, Morgan remained at the top taking a huge win, the 2nd of her career. The men's jump final saw a mistake from the usually cat-like Joel Poland as he fell when trying to ride out a huge 227 footer that would have put big pressure on the remaining skiers. World champ and recent dominant force Ryan Dodd soared 229ft - a huge score no doubt but the door was left slightly ajar for the final skier. Freddy Krueger, no stranger to high pressure wins, had two poor first jumps but, in the last chance saloon, put it all together for a 230 footer to take his first win of 2022. He won last time out in Sacramento in 2011 on a day when he also shared the podium with Ryan Dodd.
So, a weekend of incredible skiing in California. Next up is the Mastercraft Pro where the slalomers and jumpers reconvene in Orlando on 23rd-24th September as the Tour enters its final stretch.
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