Competing in Sydney Australia

April,  2003

Sponsored  by  Stihl Chainsaws,  &  Carhartt Clothing.

The 2003 United States National Lumberjack Team, sponsored by STIHL, had high hopes heading to Sydney, Australia this year. Competing for the fourth time in the prestigious International Relay against Australia and New Zealand they had good reason for optimism to abound. This was the strongest team the US had ever fielded to represent the United States in international competition. Anchored by team captains Matt Bush and Melvin Lentz, scheduled to cut the two underhand blocks in the relay, and with Arden Cogar Jr. and veteran hardwood chopper Carson Bosworth, returning for the first time in years, scheduled to cut the two standing block chops, our team of choppers was the best the US could possible hope to assemble. In the sawing events, Dave Jewett, the USA's number one ranked single hand sawyer and top hardwood crosscut team Mike Forester and Ryan Hatfield would easily be able to hold their own against the best the world could field against them. USAA secretary/ treasurer Dennis Daun, a top sawyer in his own right, was selected to serve as Team Manager to handle all the political duties for the team. The team was outfitted by Carhartt and everything was set for the US Team to try and pull off the upset of the decade in the best of three International Relay.

However, just a few weeks before scheduled to leave for Sydney, the first stroke of bad luck hit the team. Team captain Melvin Lentz was forced to withdraw with a shoulder injury requiring surgery. With entries closed at this late date, the only options available to the team were to withdraw from the race or to recruit the team manager, Dennis Daun onto the team. Given that Dennis had qualified for the team as recently as 2000 in both sawing events, it was felt that the team could rebound from the loss of their captain and still put in a very strong showing. With the versatility of most of the team members this team still represented our best shot in years to pull off an upset in the International Relay. Once in Sydney, as the team members competed in the individual events leading up to the relay, it became clear how to best re-structure the team to minimize the absence of one of its best cutters. Dennis would fill in for Dave Jewett in the single hand sawing and Dave would take Melvin's place in the second underhand.

Everyone's nerves were on edge for the first night of the relay. New Zealand was focused on defending last year's championship and had their number one team ready to go. Australia's line up was a who's who of chopping and sawing. Leading up to the big event it had been announced that this would be the great David Foster's last year representing Australia in the relay, and they wanted to go out with a win in his honor. Team USA meanwhile had their sights set on pulling off the upset that they had long dreamed about. As the event began however it became evident that Team USA had once again been struck by some extremely bad luck, this time with their wood, as new team captain Matt Bush struggled to bash his way through gnarly and knotted wood to lead the race off. Despite his Herculean effort, by the time he handed off to Arden Cogar Jr. for the first standing block, both opposing teams were nearly a full block ahead. While Team USA struggled to make up that ground for the rest of the race, it proved too little, too late, as Australia came through for their retiring team captain and finished three hits in front of a hard charging New Zealand team. While Australia celebrated, the New Zealand team members, with top axemen Jason Wynyard and David Bolstad, were already planning how they would come back in the next race. Team USA meanwhile, knowing that they had done quite well for 5 out of 6 events in that race decided to stay with the same line up, and hope that the "luck of the draw" would even out and benefit the US team for the second and third races.

In round two of the relay the wood gods appear to be at least neutral, as all the logs in the race seem to be much more even than in round one. Matt Bush once again leads off for Team USA, and this time is able to finish in a dead heat with both Australia and New Zealand... and the race is on! Team USA, Australia and New Zealand; back and forth event after event. Coming out of the first standing block, Australia edges ahead... after the single buck New Zealand moves into first, and all the time Team USA is right there shadowing their two powerhouse opponents. Next up is the double buck, where Mike Forester and Ryan Hatfield put in a fantastic cut, and now half way through the race team USA is just behind Australia for the lead and is neck and neck with New Zealand. With just two chopping events left to go the impossible is looking possible as Team USA is in the thick of the race. With Dave Jewett up next in the underhand for the United States however, this is where Team USA begins to really feel the loss of their captain. While Jewett is a great chopper in his own right, he simply can't match the experience cutting the hardwood that Lentz would bring to this team, and Team USA begins to fade just a little, allowing both NZ and Australia to pull ahead. Entering the final event New Zealand has pulled into a dead heat with Australia and the US team now lags just a few hits behind. As Carson Bosworth finishes the final standing block for a US Team that once again finishes in third, all thoughts are on what could have been. New Zealand has taken the win to tie Australia 1-1 overall, but the US team was so close that all the post game talk is about what will happen should the US team win round three. If Team USA continues its incredible performance and wins the final race, it would mean a three-way tie and would require an unprecedented fourth match.

The tension was incredible leading up to the third race... you could see it on everyone's face. The partisan crowd of 20,000+ were screaming for their champions, and Team Australia was intent on getting the win for their captain and their fans. The New Zealand team stood stoically during the introductions and the playing of the anthems, intent on keeping the championship for themselves; but during the playing of the "Star Spangled Banner" all eyes went to the upstart team from the United States, wondering if this was the year they would make history.

The final race of 2003 started out much the same as the second race, with all three teams fairly even, but it soon became clear that Team USA wouldn't be the spoiler here this year. At every station Australia and New Zealand advanced in a dead heat with each other, as both steadily pulled ahead of the US Team. It was so loud in what had formerly been the Olympic baseball stadium, that you could hear nothing at all but the screaming fans. You could hear neither the thump of the axe nor the zing of the saw. It was like competing in a vacuum, nothing but a steady roar.

In the end there was silence as the crowd waited to hear who was champion. Australia and New Zealand had maintained their deadlocked race throughout all 6 events and had finished in a dead heat. The instant replay was shown on the "Jumbotron" over and over with no one able to make a clear determination of the victor. Every time it was shown on the big screen one team or the other would declare victory, with each being the louder than the next. The official verdict... a tie. With New Zealand having won the year before they would retain their title for another year. The Australian team and their fans accepted the decision as long as they didn't show another replay. The US Team again would finish third, but showed that this was no longer something the other teams could take for granted, and would be a force to be reckoned with in 2004.

Team USA owes a great debt of gratitude to their sponsors: Stihl and Carhartt. Without their contributions Team USA would not have had the opportunity to represent their country on the international stage. Stihl's contribution to the sport of wood chopping has been tremendous with their support of the United States National Team and their sponsorship of both the "Stihl TimberSports Series" and the "Great Outdoor Games" on ESPN. The experience gained by the US team in competing internationally has truly raised everyone's level of competition and Team USA sincerely thanks Stihl for all their support and the confidence they have shown in backing the United States National Lumberjack Team

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 Article by Dennis Daun
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 © 2003 USAA
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