Canada's Mitch Hewitt is making only his second appearance in the STIHL TIMBERSPORTS Professional Series, but he certainly made his presence felt in 2009 as a competitor in Pool D. He felled the first event of the day, the springboard chop, in only 42.46 seconds, more than 20 seconds faster than his closest competitor, Switzerland's Christophe Geissler.
But don't expect Hewitt to get over-confident.
"I don't think I'm going to scare them (his fellow competitors in Pool D) very much because the rest of my events are pretty average," said Hewitt. "It could be all downhill from here."
Hewitt and Geissler were followed by Mike Slingerland in third with a time of 65.363 seconds and Dion Lane, 150 pounds lighter from the 2008 season after a dramatic weight loss, in fourth at 68.155 seconds. The third-place finish was especially satisfying for Slingerland, who sprained his knee just before the first round of competition last year.
"I had a little trouble with the pockets but overall I'm feeling pretty good," said Slingerland. "I got done what I needed to in this event."
The top four competitors from Pool D advance to the STIHL TIMBERSPORTS Championship in Columbus, Ga. later this month.
"This is one of the harder pools because there's some really good axmen," predicted Slingerland. "It's going to be a struggle all day."
While Mitch Hewitt came back down to Earth in the stock saw, it was Canadian Gaston Duperre who rose above the field. Duperre topped the field with a time of 12.455 seconds, while Hewitt finished seventh out of the eight-man pool in 16.705 seconds. Mike Slingerland continued his consistent performance with a second-place finish and a time of 12.755 seconds, followed by Justin Beckett in third with 12.85 seconds and Will Roberts in fourth with a 12.975.
When told of his fourth place finish, Roberts reacted with surprise.
"I did? It actually didn't go well at all for me," he laughed. "But it wasn't as bad as it could have been. I just try to relax and not bobble when I pick up the saw."
Slingerland was also pleased with his performance after an initial fumble.
"When I went for the switch I grabbed the chain break instead," he said. "But you've just got to remember I've been doing this for 30 years, so I've had my share of screw-ups already."
Justin Beckett is a guy with a lot on his mind. Five things, to be specific. The Australian lumberjack brought his pregnant wife and three daughters (including a set of twins) over to the United States for the month of June in order to compete in the STIHL TIMBERSPORTS Professional Series. But the added family time hasn't proved a distraction, as Beckett demolished the standing block chop in 14.47 seconds, more than three seconds faster than his closest competitor in Pool D and the fastest of the day.
Beckett was followed in second by Will Roberts, the 2005 STIHL TIMBERSPORTS Collegiate Series champion, who continued his solid opening round performance with a time of 18.155 seconds in the standing block. Switzerland's Christophe Geissler finished in third with a time of 19.680 seconds and Canadian Mitch Hewitt came in fourth after finishing in 21.345.
Veteran American lumberjack Mike Eash continued to struggle, tripping on his way around the block en route to a disappointing time of 22.633 seconds.
"So far I've had three events and messed up three events," said Eash. "So for the next three I'm just going to try and do something right for a change."
The fourth event of the STIHL PROFESSIONAL Series, the single buck, proved to be a critical one for the members of Pool D. With only two points separating second place from sixth at the midway point of the competition and the unpredictable hot saw looming, Mike Slingerland, Christophe Geissler and Will Roberts all turned in impressive performances to keep their hopes of qualifying for the STIHL TIMBERSPORTS Championship alive.
Although Justin Beckett continued his winning ways with a top time of 11.94 seconds, Slingerland posted a 13.22 to finish in second, followed by Geissler in third with a 13.96 and Roberts in fourth with a 14.04. Roberts' fourth place time was almost marred by a disqualification, as some question arose as to the cleanliness of his cut. After a short deliberation from the judges Roberts' time was counted.
Gaston Duperre, who has found himself near the bottom of the pool but is still fighting to remain in contention, said he was happy with his fifth place finish in the event.
"I had good power and I never reduced my speed," said Duperre. "It was a very good saw for me."
But as Beckett continued to separate himself from the field, he pointed not to his own performance but to that of Dion Lane, who arrived for competition this year 150 pounds lighter than in previous seasons.
"I don't know that I'm doing that much better, but Dion is struggling I guess," said Beckett. "Usually we'd probably separate ourselves from the others."
In TIMBERSPORTS, sometimes a fraction of an inch can cost you a foot — literally. In the underhand chop, Christophe Geissler found himself on the wrong end of a botched foothold, nicking the wood and thereby disqualifying himself from the event. It was an especially tough blow for Geissler, who was fourth overall heading into the event and on the cusp of qualifying for the STIHL TIMBERSPORTS Championship later this month.
On the flip side, it was Will Roberts who found himself on the receiving end of Geissler's misfortune. Roberts' fourth place finish and Geissler's disqualification moved him into third place overall.
"I felt terrible for Christophe but it helped me," said Roberts. "…It was good wood but I cut it terribly. My blows went every which way."
The event was won by Justin Beckett, who notched his third win in a row on the day. Beckett was followed in second by Dion Lane, whose 21.137-second time vaulted him into fourth place overall heading into the hot saw. In third was Mitch Hewitt with 21.830 seconds, followed by Roberts.
Mike Slingerland, who has quietly moved himself into second place overall despite failing to finish first in any event, was satisfied with his fifth place time of 23.630 seconds. The 45-year old, who teaches several up and coming lumberjacks (including his own son) from his North Carolina home, found the opportunity to teach himself a few things before taking his turn at the wood.
"I saw that the other guys were struggling because the wood was a little firm," said Slingerland. "So I was making sure not to get too few hits…but I maybe got a couple more than I needed. Better safe than sorry with the position I'm in."
The underhand chop was also the final event to determine the Carharrt Chopping Champion, which predictably went to Justin Beckett after winning both the standing block and the underhand chop and finishing in fifth in the springboard.
Just before the hot saw competition began, Australian lumberjack Justin Beckett said, "there's no confidence in the hot saw." His description proved to be correct, as major drama played out throughout the event.
It all began when Mitch Hewitt, who was in fifth overall going into the event, struggled to start his hot saw. Pool C competitor Nathan Waterfield jumped on stage to aid Hewitt, who was then able to start his saw and finish his cuts. Waterfield's action violated a rule which states that anyone who goes on stage to help another competitor must be fully dressed in safety gear. Waterfield was not, and controversy ensued. After an advisory council meeting, Hewitt's time of 44.12 seconds was allowed to stand, but still placed him at the bottom of the heap and did not significantly impact the overall standings.
On the opposite end of the heap was Gaston Duperre, who crushed the field with the only sub-seven second time in Pool D. His 6.625-second run was followed by Mike Eash in second with a time of 7.247 and Christophe Geissler in third with 7.377. Dion Lane came through in the clutch, shaking his head after his 7.63-second run earned him fourth place in the pool and slid him into a tie for second and third place overall.
Mike Slingerland almost sawed himself right out of contention with his second to last place finish in the hot saw, but managed to secure the fourth spot despite running a factory saw that ESPN STIHL TIMBERSPORTS analyst Kevin Holtz described as "kind of like bringing a knife to a gun fight."
"For years on the STIHL Series I alternated between a big saw and a product saw, and then I would compare points," said Slingerland of his decision to go with less horsepower. "I always got more with the smaller one. The really top guys are still going to beat me, but I'm guaranteed to get it started and beat at least a few guys."
Slingerland, who was plagued by a knee injury last year, will join his son Matt in Columbus, Ga. Matt earned his second straight berth in the STIHL TIMBERSPORTS Collegiate Series earlier this year.
"I pretty much performed to my capabilities," said Slingerland after the conclusion of the competition. "Maybe it'll go better in Georgia. Matty and I are both going to work on our standing block."
The hot saw was also the final event to determine the STIHL Sawing Champion, which went to Gaston Duperre after winning the hot saw and the stock saw and finishing fifth in the single buck.
The top four competitors from Pool D to advance to the STIHL TIMBERSPORTS Finals on June 19-21 in Columbus, Ga. are: Justin Beckett, Dion Lane, Will Roberts and Mike Slingerland.