Mike Osborn

Inducted in 

Appeared in a Rapid Shave Commercial

 

Mike is recognized as one of the Best Men's jumping competitors of his era, having co-held the world record three times.

 

Mike began water skiing when he was six years old.  His parents, Jane and LaRue, were boaters and competitive swimmers, and Mike's first experience with competition was through swim meets.

 

Skiing first piqued Mike's interest as a pre-teen.  He swam in the Junior Olympics and ended up getting a world record in his age division.  But, when he went to school with what he calls his "little medals", they looked insignificant to him compared the 18- to 36-inch high trophies his classmates Gene Marotti and Charlie Emry were winning for water skiing.

Mike visited Gene and Charlie at Cypress Gardens and borrowed a trick ski to try out.  Before long, he was learning how to jump the ramp on trick skis, convinced the runners on the bottoms of regular skis would make it more difficult to jump.

When Mike graduated to real jump skis he found that he was a natural.  While training with some of the Gardens skiers for an All-American tournament, 15 year old Mike impressed Malcolm Pope, brother of Gardens founder Dick Pope Sr., who hired him on the spot as a weekend skier.

 

Working at Cypress Gardens boosted Mike's skiing career and molded him into a superb showman. He was most famous for his comical antic as the Gardens' Corky the clown, who, unlike today's Cory, was clad in a pair of patched overalls and a floppy hat.  Mike says the Garden's skiers were the best skiers of his era because they were well rounded and used to skiing everyday, sometimes in adverse conditions.

 

When Mike and his family entered the 1955 Water Ski Nationals in Lakeland, Fla., they didn't know much about the sport, but by the following year, Mike's skiing had improved vastly.  He went from placing 13th overall in the Boys division in 1955, to second overall in 1956, with third places in slalom and jumping and fourth in tricks.

 

Mike's skiing continued to improve as he moved into the Men's division, even when he left home to attend the Citadel in Charleston, S.C.  He would have finished his education there, but Johnson Motors made him an offer he couldn't refuse:  The company would pay his college tuition if he moved back to Florida. Mike decided to attend Florida Southern College in Lakeland, making it easy for him to go to school and still ski two shows a day at the gardens.  There were also other fringe benefits:  Mike was dating a lovely Gardens skier named Nancy Legent, who would become his wife in 1962, so he was able to be close to her as well as his family and friends.  He graduated in 1961 with a degree in education.

In 1959, Mike hit the peak of his career.  Not only did he win Men's jumping at the National Championships but, as a member of the U.S. Water Ski Team, he brought home a silver medal in slalom and a bronze medal in Men's overall from the World Championships in Milan, Italy.

 

Mike's 142-foot winning jump at Nationals tied the world record, then held by his rival Joe Cash.  It was the third time Mike had tied the record.  He also won the Men's national overall competition that year, placing fourth in tricks and slalom.

Mike became known for his jumping style.  At times, it seem he was jumping almost upside-down. Mike says that style actually developed later in his career, during the mid-1960, when Alan Kempton introduced the first jump sling.  Mike decided to try to simulate the sling's effect by holding the handle close into his body with two hands.  The technique had the desired results, adding distance to his jumps.

 

Mike's skiing career also lead to a short sting in acting.  His ticket in was a short film called "Water Skiing with Buick".  Buick had heard about Mike's son, Mark, skiing at two and a half years old.  They contacted the Osborn's and asked if Mark could be in the film.  Mike asked if there was a part for him, and when they said, "No, Bruce Parker has that job", he came back with, "If you don't have a role for me, you don't have my son." Buick quickly decided to include Mike.

Mike's next appearance was in a Rapid Shave commercial where he skied over the jump ram, shaving and saying "Make it fast, make it smooth!"

In 1969, Mike opened Osborn Marine in Winter Haven, Fla., where he builds 32 custom boat models and sells other nationally known product lines such as Galstron, Johnson and Honda.  Mike runs the sales end of the business while his wife, Nancy, handles the administrative duties.

 

LaRue Osborn, who began building racing boats with Mike in 1969, was also part of the business, doing hands-on repair work until he retired in 1982.

Over the years, other past-times replaced water skiing as the main focus of the Osborn family' life. Mike got into dirt bike racing when his three boys, Mark, Mitch and Matt were young, because it was a sport they all could take part in at the same time.  They loved the sport so much that Mike says they had to buy Honda of Winter Haven, a motorcycle dealership, just to keep the kids in bikes and equipment.

 

In 1985, Mike won the Grand National Championship in the Senior Division of three-wheel racing.  He is still competing in the Golden Masters division at age 58.

 

Mike now has three grandchildren and hopes to get back into water skiing while teaching them to ski

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