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Four World Titles
Introduced to water skiing at the age of four by his parents, Diane and Sam, on the waters near his hometown of Greenville, S.C., Duvall entered his first tournament two years later in 1969, thus beginning his illustrious competitive career.
Duvall, who was ranked No. 1 in the world in either Men's jumping or overall from 1979 to 1994, held the Open Men's world jumping record six times. He first set the mark in 1988 with a 205-foot leap. His sixth and final world record came in 1993 and was 220 feet, an astounding 15 feet further than his original mark.
He won 13 coveted Masters (U.S.) titles, eight U.S. Open Championships and seven Moomba Masters titles. Duvall was crowned the season champion eight times on the U.S. Pro Water Ski Tour during a professional career that netted him more than 80 victories.
Duvall also made his mark on the international scene as a member of the U.S. Elite Water Ski Team from 1979 to 1987. It was as a member of the U.S. Team that he laid claim to his living-legend status by winning the Men's world overall title four times. His first world overall title came in 1981 as a fresh-faced 19-year-old. He also won water skiing's most prestigious title in 1983, 1985 and 1987.
Although his four world titles officially put him in the history books, it was Duvall's extraordinary performance at the 1987 World Water Ski Championship in Thorpe Park, England, that forever cemented his greatness. Duvall came from behind to win the overall title on a day that he would later recall as the greatest day of his career.
After a disappointing 1987 season full of injuries and sub-par - at least by his standards - performances, many people in the international water-skiing community felt Duvall didn't have what it would take to win again. With the United States facing tough competition and its streak of 20 consecutive World Championship victories in danger of ending, Duvall needed to come up with his best performance yet to not only secure the team title for the United States, but to become the first male to win four overall titles.
Entering the final jumping event of the tournament he trailed Australia's Mick Neville and fellow U.S. Team member Carl Roberge after taking early falls in the slalom and tricks events. Needing a 190-foot jump to secure the jumping title and a 197-foot jump to win the overall title, Duvall hit the water as the last skier of the tournament. With his first jump of the round, Duvall soared 194 feet to give himself the jumping title. Now he had two jumps to go at least 197 feet - three feet short of his personal best - to win the overall title. He only needed one. On his second attempt, he took an extremely late cut, but as he was in the air, he knew it had paid off for him. The only question was how far? As he rounded the turn island at the end of the course he saw his distance come on the scoreboard. In true Duvall form, he had won the overall title - and silenced the doubters - by matching his then personal best of 200 feet in what has since become recognized as one of the greatest individual performances in water-skiing history.
Duvall, 38, who officially retired from skiing in 1998, has been devoting his time to the water ski and wakeboard industry. He first opened Sammy Duvall's Water Sports Center out of the Contemporary Resort at Disney's Magic Kingdom, and most recently opened a second site - devoted to high-end competition athletes - at Caribbean Beach Resort at Walt Disney World.