COLUMBUS, Ga. With half the field already set for Sunday's final round, eight men were whittled down to four in Pool B of the STIHL TIMBERSPORTS semifinals, and no two pushed each other harder than top finishers Jason Wynyard and Dale Ryan.
Wynyard and Ryan bore the 100-plus degree heat on the field at the Aflac Outdoor Games in Columbus, Ga., pitted in head-to-head competition for much of the round, and fellow competitor Mike Sullivan noted the importance of the matchup.
"They're all tough pools now, man," Sullivan said. "There's no easy pools any more. Some competitors have strong events, some have weak events, and it's a game of matches."
Ryan and Wynyard separated themselves from the rest of the field early on, going one and two, in the springboard chop, the first and longest of the events.
"Even though it's under 50 seconds, it does sap you more than the others," said Wynyard, the 6-foot-4, 300-pound New Zealand native. "It's a combination of cutting the board holes and then climbing up — it can confuse your body a little bit. I'm one of the heaviest guys out there and I definitely prefer to have my feet planted."
Following the springboard, Ryan faltered in the stock saw event, finishing grouped with most of the field around the 11.3-second mark. Meanwhile, firmly on his feet, Wynyard outpaced his competitors by more than a half-second, posting a time of 10.41-seconds in what he named as the most critical of the six-event competition.
"Stock saw — you can never count on it," Wynyard said. "The times are always close together. It's not hard to make one little mistake in there and be eighth place. So, it's really nice to get a win in that event because it's not one you can normally count on."
Ryan bounced back in the standing block, placing second, again in the same heat as Wynyard, who blasted through his block in one stroke after the turn and came within eight-tenths of a second of his own world-record time.
"It's been a while since I've done a six and six in my standing block," Wynyard said of his 12.97-second time, "so it feels good."
Asked how being in the same heat affected their performances, Ryan managed to give Wynyard credit while also provoking a good-natured argument.
"I hate going against him," Ryan laughed. "He tries to make you look like a little boy."
"Oh, shut up," Wynyard said. "You're just trying to get some payback."
Wynyard confessed that being matched up with a strong competitor like Ryan pushed him to post lower times than he otherwise might, a statement which could also be applied to the heavily anticpated matchup between Wynyard and reigning world champ David Bolstad in the finals tomorrow.
"It's hard to lift yourself if you're not going against someone good," Wynyard said.
In the end, Wynyard dominated Pool B, winning three of the six events outright and placing second in two more, with his only poor showing coming in the hot saw event at the end of the competition. A two-year labor of love for Wynyard, his hot saw made it through all three cuts, but his 11.85-second time put him in sixth place, some six seconds behind the leader. Wynyard speculated that the heat may have played a role in the saw's poor performance, but said he planned to work on the saw overnight.
"These things are always a worry," he said, "so, it'd be nice to get this thing running good, because I know it's good enough to get close to some of those world records."
Despite the positive outlook, Wynyard admitted that the championship could very well be decided by the hot saw event.
"It very well may," he said. "As you can see it was a funny round today — points sort of changed hands all around, so it'll be similar tomorrow, I would think."
In addition to Wynyard and Ryan, Americans Mel Lentz and Carson Bosworth nabbed spots in the final eight, coming in third and fourth in Pool B, respectively. For 50 year-old Lentz, it was a welcome surprise.
"I'm in," Lentz said. "It's great. I didn't think I'd ever make it again after making it a couple of years ago. I mean, hell man, I'm fifty years old and making it. I'm as happy as can be. I'm going to go all out tomorrow."