The Water Park Olympics

The splash of victory, the agony of the feet.

click to enlarge BOMBS AWAY! Bardi prepares for impact. - David Warner
David Warner
BOMBS AWAY! Bardi prepares for impact.

Editor's Note: Diving wholeheartedly into the theme of this year's Summer Guide, Creative Loafing decided to treat Adventure Island as our own personal Olympic stadium — which, it turns out, is a pretty good way to experience Adventure Island. If it seems that the following splash-by-splash account lingers inordinately on the triumphs of one particular athlete, well, that's what we get for hiring a hack — I mean, a veteran sports scribe — like Bud Crookshank.

ADVENTURE ISLAND, Fla. — Ten elite athletes converged on this wet wonderland for the Creative Loafing Water Park Olympics. Amid fevered competition, the five-event Games were marked by controversy, injury and even a bout of claustrophobia.

On a gorgeous 85-degree day, the sun smiled brightest on veteran Waterpark Olympian Eric "Gray Shark" Snider. The winner of 14 previous gold medals, Snider had announced that this would be his last Games, and he exited the sport in a blaze of glory: He took the overall gold, with a medal count of two golds, two silvers and a bronze. "What a way to go out," he said. "I trained harder than ever for this one. I'm truly humbled."

First-timer Wade "Speeding Bullet" Tatangelo bagged the overall silver with one gold — including a win in the Games' marquee event, the Gulf Scream Waterslide Sprint — and a bronze. Seasoned performer Joe "Crazy Legs" Bardi grabbed the overall Bronze with two silvers. London "Tonya Harding" Fajkus led the way for the women with a silver and a bronze.

The contestants, all of them Creative Loafing staffers, marched proudly into Adventure Island amid the anticipatory buzz of the crowd. Lyndsay "The Best Tan in Minnesota" Tubbs was chosen by her fellow Olympians to carry the Creative Loafing banner. Then, just like that, the games were on.

Enough Rope

It didn't take long for controversy to rear its ugly head. In the Paradise Lagoon Rope Walk Race, Tubbs set the pace early with a solid swing across the pool (13.35 seconds). Anthony "Big Guns" Salveggi also turned in an ace run (11.85). Tatangelo bested both, however, logging 11.16. Snider, the last contestant, stepped up and notched a 10.12 to bag his first gold.

Or did he?

click to enlarge PERFECT: Judges Samantha Devlin, Brian Tracey and Kayla Tracey reveal their scores for the cannonball dive of Wayne Garcia (in water). - David Warner
David Warner
PERFECT: Judges Samantha Devlin, Brian Tracey and Kayla Tracey reveal their scores for the cannonball dive of Wayne Garcia (in water).

While the wily vet pumped his fists in jubilation at poolside, an upstart kid — 12-year-old Brian "The Spoiler" Tracey, visiting the park from Wall, N.J. — skipped across the pond for a time of 9.94 and was declared the winner. Trying gamely to stifle his rage, Snider filed an immediate protest with officials, but was promptly rebuffed. An embittered Snider said, "That young man will go down in Waterpark Olympics history as the Kid Who Stole the Gold."

That wasn't Snider's only problem. While jumping into the pool, he scraped his left big toe and a spot of blood welled up. The crowd gasped. After being examined by trainers, however, he shook it off and returned to the Games. "I don't have time for pain," he huffed.

A Bigger Splash

If any event had an odds-on favorite, it was the Paradise Lagoon Cannonball Contest. Wayne "Spitz" Garcia's rare blend of body mass and raw athleticism drew a rapt crowd poolside. A specialist in this event, he, too, announced it was his last Waterpark Olympics.

Garcia did not disappoint, grabbing gold with a perfect 10 from all three judges (Brian Tracey, his sister Kayla and their friend Samantha Devlin). Blending grace and power, his cannonball sent a monstrous plume of water into the air and generated a sonorous thud that registered on the Richter Scale in Roanake, Va.

click to enlarge WHERE'S WADE-O? The empty lane is where Tatangelo would have been if it hadn't been for his delicate condition. - Wayne Garcia
Wayne Garcia
WHERE'S WADE-O? The empty lane is where Tatangelo would have been if it hadn't been for his delicate condition.

"Finally, all that beer and pizza in college 30 years ago pays off," he said.

Bardi got good air, formed a near-perfect ball and issued a commendable splash, but wowed the judges with a banshee wail that earned him a score of 26 and a silver medal. With a workmanlike effort, Snider won bronze with a 21.

Dannielle "No Cellulite" Fiore and Fajkus did a tandem cannonball with an artful mid-air finger snap and point, but the judges were not impressed. The Albanian judge held up a paltry 4, prompting Fiore to allege anti-Italian bias. She was probably right.

click to enlarge FLOATERS: Everybody in the pool! - Wayne Garcia
Wayne Garcia
FLOATERS: Everybody in the pool!

Down the Tube

Then it was time for speed. The Olympians convened for the Riptide Four-Lane Mat Slide, a thriller of an event in which four contestants blast through a serpentine tube, then emerge for a final stretch down a slide.

Tatangelo, who excels in the speed events, walked up the stairs, reached the launching point and abruptly scratched, citing claustrophobia. "Hey, it's dark in there," he said. "And I might get stuck." It was an unfortunate turn of events for the cocky Olympian. He very possibly cost himself a medal.

After two four-person heats, the finals featured Snider, Bardi, Fajkus and Salveggi. Bardi slightly trailed Snider as they emerged from the tubes, but flagged in the late going to finish second. Gold to Snider. Fajkus edged Salveggi for bronze.

click to enlarge OH, THERE HE IS: Tatangelo speeds down Gulf Scream. - Wayne Garcia
Wayne Garcia
OH, THERE HE IS: Tatangelo speeds down Gulf Scream.

Dead Man's Float

The Games' most chaotic event was, ironically enough, the Rambling Bayou Motionless Float Marathon. Rules prohibited racers from kicking, pushing off of the Bayou's sides or putting their hands in the water. Several contestants were disqualified early for jostling with each other, while others mistakenly took a shorter route, the equivalent of turning down a wrong street in a running marathon.

Snider got a good jumping start and led early, trailed hotly by Fajkus. He got a fortuitous break when he floated directly in front of one of the Bayou's water jets and benefited from a rocket boost of speed, allowing him to open up a 12-meter lead. At the three-quarter point, Fajkus had pulled within touching distance, but another fortunate blast of water pushed Snider out to victory. Fajkus took silver, and Alex Pickett, in a valiant come-from-behind effort, won bronze.

click to enlarge HUMBLE? Snider basks. - Wayne Garcia
Wayne Garcia
HUMBLE? Snider basks.

In another controversy, Salveggi attempted to walk the Bayou, but was quickly DQ'ed. He claimed that the rules did not expressly prohibit walking, but judges deemed his actions not in the spirit of the Games.

Drag Race

The final event, the most glamorous, the Gulf Scream Waterslide Sprint. Tatangelo entered the event as a prohibitive favorite. During time trails held earlier, he set a world record with a time of 5.75. Snider raced his way into the final with a 6.10.

Tatangelo went first. With starters, timers and onlookers standing below, he blasted out of the chute and used his finely honed technique to zip down the slide for a time of 5.81. He explained in the Olympic Village later that his years of high school wrestling allowed him to bridge his body so that his heels and shoulders only touched the course, thus cutting down drag.

Snider watched Tatangelo's run from the starting gate, and — confronted with the opportunity to cap his career with a gold medal — didn't like his chances. "That kid can scoot," he said. "It was like thumb-wrestling with Shaquille O'Neal. He should have a great career in this event for many years to come."

Snider clocked in at 6.15 for the silver. A timer error left the winner of the bronze up for debate.

The Boys of Summer

During the closing medal ceremony, Snider stood atop the medal bench, flanked by Tatangelo and Bardi. Medals draped over his chest, his white chest hair glistened in the sunlight. He looked straight ahead, and tears welled in his eyes as he slowly sang his anthem: "And we'll have fun ... fun ... fun ... until ... your daddy ... takes the ... T-bird ... away."

Click here for more Summer Guide

click to enlarge HANG IN THERE: Fajkus learns the ropes. - Wayne Garcia
Wayne Garcia
HANG IN THERE: Fajkus learns the ropes.

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