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The best individual sporting performance in 2002?
Perhaps ever?

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Tiger Woods continues to rack up a mountain of honors, cups and victories, the Williams sisters dominate ladies' tennis with a ho-hum consistency, and Pete Sampras's comeback at the 2002 U.S. Open was incredible, but, in my opinion, the best individual athletic accomplishment in 2002 may have taken place in Bled, Slovenia.

While electronic and print media giants focused their myopic lenses and total attention on the more popular stateside events (you know, basketball, football and how many times Benito Santiago spits with runners on first and third), Ms. Jana Maisel of Germany quietly delivered one of the greatest competitive sports-related accomplishments by an individual.

The event was the World Casting Championship, sponsored by the International Casting Federation (ICF), September 3 to 8, 2002. Casters from all over the world congregated in this picturesque city by the lake, to compete in a series of casting disciplines that would determine the crème de la crème champions. They came from Japan, Switzerland, Austria, Czech Republic, Poland, Sweden, Germany, Spain, USA and many other countries.

Competitive casting is a big thing in Europe. But not in the United States. In many European countries, tournaments are televised on a regular basis.

The events encompass both distance and accuracy with fly casting, spinning and revolving spool (plug casting) tackle.

Back to Jana Maisel.

She cast perfect scores (100) in three events-fly accuracy, spinning, and 5/8 oz. plug casting-and a fantastic 96 in what is known as the Arenberg Event in which the caster must make underhand, sidearm, backhand and other intricate casts. Her total score for the four accuracy events was 396 out of a possible 400. Whoa!

Let's put this in the proper perspective: She beat the men's highest total score (381) for the four accuracy events by 15 points! And the men's division included the best casters ever.

It's probably not fair to equate her accomplishments to other sports, but I suppose her achievement might be like rolling three consecutive 300 games in bowling and maybe missing a couple of pins in the fourth. Actually, I think it's even harder, because Ms. Maisel did her thing in four different types of casting events using different tackle (fly, spinning, plug casting). And remember, she did this in the prestigious World Casting Championship, the "Olympics" of casting so to speak. Nerve racking? You bet!

"Now," you say, "okay, she's very good at the accuracy games, and obviously she has great dexterity. But is that really athletic?"

Let's move over to the distance-casting field. See that woman double hauling with that single-handed fly rod? That's Jana. She just unleashed a long cast of 170 feet. That's 20 feet longer than half a football field! That, my friends, not only takes tremendous strength but split-second coordination.

Ted Williams, considered by many the greatest baseball hitter of all time, loved fishing as much as baseball. Maybe more. He spent many years fishing the Keys where double-haul fly casting is a must, not an option, and he was so good at it that, years ago, Ted gave distance fly-casting demonstrations at sport shows. Ted was a very good fly caster, butt even in his prime, he would not have been able to come close to Jana's distance.

Jack Nicklaus is easily one of the all-time best golfers. Right? Tremendous coordination and physical ability. Like Ted did, Jack loves to fly fish and does it often. He is a good caster, knows the double-haul. No way could he come close to Jana's distance.

Jack and Ted. We're talking about two of the world's most gifted athletes. Ever.

But despite her tremendous cast, Jana didn't win the single-handed distance fly casting event in the women's division. She placed fourth! The winner was Czech's Julie Koblihova who delivered an even more fantastic cast of 176 feet!
Jana won the distance single-handed spinning with a cast of 193 feet, barely beating Julie Koblihova' 191-foot cast. She also won the two-handed plug casting distance event with a cast of 301 feet.

Jana was superb in the 2002 World Casting
Championship but she had lot of competition
from Zuzana Kocirova (left) and Julie Koblihova (right)
both from the Czech Republic.

Jana and Julie are not the only good casters in the women's division. There are many. For example, in the fly accuracy when Jana shot a perfect score? So did Alena Zinner, of Austria. When there is a tie there is a shoot-off. Alena shot a second perfect score to beat Jana's 95. Shoot-offs are a timed event and if there is a second tie, whoever cast the 20 targets in the fastest time, is declared the winner. Talk about pressure. Alena cast at the 20 targets in less than three minutes, while Jana completed her targets in two minutes. In this event, you have to false cast at least once during the "dry fly" portion, which is the first ten targets. On the "wet fly" false casting is not allowed as you go from target to target.

Steve Rajeff—in my personal opinion the greatest all-round caster of all time—was the only competitor from the USA to win a medal. He won the single-handed distance fly event with a cast of 199 feet. He also won the 5/8 oz. accuracy plug-casting event with a 95 and then cast a perfect score in a shoot-off. Steve came in 5th in the all-round, only one-half point from placing 4th.

In the qualifying two-handed "salmon" fly distance event, Steve cast 233 feet (average of his two longest casts). Very impressive, right? That earned him 15th place, which was not good enough to qualify for the finals since they only take the top eight scores. You don't think those Europeans can cast far? The winner in the qualifying round was Czech Miloslav Krejci with an average of 270 feet! Ten yards short of a football field. Czech Patrik Lexa however won the final round with a cast of 250 feet.

The other Americans who participated were Henry Mittel (5th place in the two handed spinning), Bobby Spear, Tony Yap and Pam Peters.

But this tournament clearly belongs to Jana Maisel.

These are some of the highlights at the ICF World Casting Championship. If you want to check the detailed box scores click on:

World Casting Championships

"The tournament was excellent and the location was fantastic," Rajeff reports. "The town of Bled is on the shore of a lake, which has a castle on top of a cliff that overlooks the town. The water is a deep blue color, from snow melt from surrounding mountain glaciers and snowfields. It was very scenic, to say the least, and nearby are beautiful rivers with trout species, some not found in North America that can grow to more than 36 inches."

This writer can attest to the beauty of the land, because I fished Yugoslavia back in the early 1960s. Slovenia was, of course, one of the republics that made up Yugoslavia. And yes, they do have yard-long trout (known as zubatec trout), and the streams are gorgeous, but this trip belongs to tournament casting.

Hopefully our electronic and print media will wake up one day. "You know what, J. B? We should cover this tournament looks like it could be one heckuva sport if we promote it."

Well, duh!

Yeah, one day this will happen.

In the meantime, Z-z-z-z-z-z. - Jim C. Chapralis

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