DESPITE a valiant effort last Saturday, Bruce Rock shearer Ethan Harder, 20, was beaten by the law of averages at his first attempt to break the world eight-hour solo Merino ewe shearing record.
In shearing record terms, the law goes something along the lines of: if you don't maintain your average, your revised average will be harder to maintain.
Basically, that was the story of Mr Harder's record attempt in Adrian and Jacquie South's shearing shed at Cordering.
He aimed to be first to solo shear 500 ewes in eight hours while chasing down Louis Brown's world record of 497 Merino ewes set last April at Kojonup, which remains the shearing milestone to beat.
Just to match the record Mr Harder had to average less than 57 seconds a sheep, from pen to chute, across four two-hour runs to allow time for cutter and comb changes and to stretch his back and take a drink to avoid cramping.
The record had been achieved with runs of 120, 126, 126 and 125 ewes shorn and despite slipping and jarring his handpiece wrist on the second sheep of the day, Mr Harder was four sheep up at the end of the first run.
But during the second he drifted from his average, not helped by the referees - convener Ian Buchanan from New Zealand and Australians Mike Henderson, Peter Artridge and Ralph Blue - rejecting two nicked sheep they ruled he should have sewn up, so they did not count towards his tally.
Mr Harder also had to stop shearing to sew up three more nicked skin flaps early in the run when he was pushing hard to extend his lead - only about 10 seconds lost at a time, but it had a cumulative effect.
As a result, he was four ewes down for his second run and at the lunch break his tally was even with Mr Brown's at the half-way mark.
Shearers involved in previous world record attempts claim the third run is the make or break one.
It was for Mr Harder.
He started with a frenzy of 47-53 second sheep in the first half hour after lunch.
But while he was in front of an air conditioner, it was hot and humid in the shed, many of the spectators were still outside finishing lunch or yarning in the shade and energy levels from the audience dropped off.
By 2pm, half way through the run, Mr Harder's times had crept out, first to about 55 seconds, then to about 58 seconds and finally to just over a minute a sheep.
His mother Suzie, PAD & SM Harder shearing contracting's wool classer, was first to react and was up at the board alerting her son he was slowing and urging him to pick up the pace.
Mr Harder returned to 47-53 seconds a sheep for the last half hour of the run but the damage to the required average time had been done in the middle hour.
He came up three sheep short at 123 for his third run, meaning he had to shear 129 sheep in the final run at an average time reduced to 55.8 seconds each, to break the record.
He gave it a good crack, but in his haste nicked five ewes and had to stop shearing to sew them up and the referees rejected two more, one they thought should have been sewn up and one they deemed was left with too much wool on it.
In the end, his four runs of 124, 122, 123 and 119 added up to a tally of 488 at an average of 59 seconds each - nine shy of the record.
The Souths had given him every chance with their relatively placid, mixed-age ewes carrying between 3.7 and four kilograms of wool, importantly with clean bellies because they had been run on barley stubble since a November harvest.
Their fleece was clean too, with little sand, which enabled Mr Harder to stretch cutter changes out to 15 minutes - just over 15 sheep at his average speed - where Mr Brown had changed cutters every 10 sheep in setting the record.
Penned undercover overnight, the ewes were held behind tarpaulins on the north side of the shed, so had a good sweat up with lanolin flowing through their wool, theoretically making it easier and quicker to shear, by the time they reached the catching pen.
After a quick shower and change of clothes, Mr Harder was stoic, with fatigue hiding any disappointment.
"It wasn't my day," he said, but admitted it had been a steep learning curve.
He thanked parents Suzie and Paul for their support and Team Harder, a group of up to 20 helpers and supporters who acted as rouseabouts, processed the fleece, kept the catching pen full with ewes facing the right direction, kept his drink bottle full and cutters and spare handpieces ready to change.
Mr Harder has been working with Nerissa Smith and George Gray's shearing team in the Great Southern since before Christmas and many Team Harder members, including the wool handlers, were work mates from that team.
"It's been a long journey and an awesome team effort," he told them.
Former record holder for 16 years, Cartwright Terry, who coached ewe-by-ewe both Mr Harder through his record attempt and Mr Brown through his record-setting runs last year, put Mr Harder's effort into perspective.
"It was a great attempt, it was a worthy world record attempt and he didn't give up, he kept going right to the end," Mr Terry said.
"A world record attempt is like nothing else, it's not like work where you've got other shearers beside you (to spur you on), it's just you out there in front of everybody and you're racing the clock.
"He learnt a lot from today.
"He's young, he has lots of time to get the record," he said.