It’s safe to say that the energy was hitting the parameters of its explosive climax for Day No. 3 of the 2018 GoPro Mountain Games. The crowds seemed to have multiplied by 10, the weather remained absolutely stellar – sunny and beautiful with the perfect amount of afternoon clouds – and the sensory overload was delightfully dizzying.
UPDATED JUNE 12, 10:47 A.M.
See daily video recap HERE.
IFSC Climbing World Cup
To the sea of “oohing” and “ahhing” spectators, it looked like nothing less than a feat of super human agility when Alex Puccio flashed up the geometric conundrum that was the last problem of the IFSC Climbing World Cup Finals. The five other female finalists before her could not so much as move beyond the first hold – a pair of parallel, down-facing pyramids on an overhanging portion of the wall.
“I felt like I was falling half the time,” Puccio said of the flash performance. “I did whatever I could to stay on the wall. Before I went to the zone hold it was actually a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. I did some last minute beta adjustments that I didn’t plan when I originally looked at the boulder. I did this clamp with my feet that allowed me to be more stable as I went into zone. I got the zone hold and then I knew. I said, OK, I’m here, I’m tired, but let’s make this go count because I don’t know if I’m going to get back here again.”
It was gold medal territory for the veteran climber, a place she hasn’t been on the World Cup since 2009, when she won at the Mountain Games in Vail.
“I’ve come in second and third so many times. I’ve been in countless amounts of finals. “A lot of times I’ve been first going into finals, then I kind of messed up, even if the boulders were easy. I knew I wasn’t not winning because I wasn’t strong enough. It was something mental. I’m in a more free and fun relationship with competition now. I knew I was second no matter what before going into that problem and I was already psyched. Of course, I thought, I want to win. That would just be the icing on the cake.”
Japan’s Miho Nanaka and Akiyo Noguchi came in second and third, respectively, in the women’s finals. Nanaka was matching or slightly one-upping Puccio on every problem before Puccio elevated herself (literally) to a different level on the final problem. Noguchi was the stand out on problem No. 3, which nobody else knew what to make of, but which the Japanese athlete topped by throwing some crazy Matrix moves, both feet on the wall.
Team Japan strutted its stuff in the men’s final, too. Rei Sugimoto claimed victory after also earning status as the sole athlete to scale problem No. 3. He pulled if off by defying gravity a couple of times, managing to grasp the rounded holds only after loading up on chalk. However, American Sean Bailey was neck and neck with the Japanese climber for the first half of finals and finished second while Team Japan’s Tomoa Narasaki took third.
Next year’s IFSC World Cup event in Vail will mark one of the last competitions before climbing makes its Olympic debut in Tokyo 2020.
TIAA XC Mountain Bike
By far the most exciting moment of the race, if not of the entire day, took place between two Olympic athletes hammering neck and neck to the finish line in the TIAA XC Mountain Bike race. Boulder-born Olympian Chloe Woodruff put some distance between herself and Czech Olympian Katerina Nash on the uphill portions of the grueling, three-lap, 21-mile course but Nash kept pulling ahead on the tricky descents. At one point, Nash crashed on a dusty, rooty segment of switchbacks and after checking to make sure she was OK, Woodruff again took the lead.
However, coming through the checkpoint after lap 2, the two pro riders were pedaling knee-to-knee and then coming into the final descent of their final lap, just when Woodruff thought she’d dropped Nash, Nash was right there by her side again. The last hundred yards of their race were probably the fastest on the clock all day, both sprinting furiously, their handlebars rocking centimeters away from one another, to the finish line. It was the American who took the victory, edging out Nash by less than a wheel’s length.
“I kind of like sprint finishes,” Woodruff said. “It actually happens pretty often on the World Cup.”
Nash, 40, who moved to the U.S. on a college scholarship for cross-country skiing and is a five-time Olympian, did not concur. “It’s always more fun for the spectators than it is for the racers,” she said.
Woodruff, 30, who now resides in Prescott, Ariz. thought she had hammered ahead of Nash as she approached the last two minutes of the race, but found she had to dip into her reserve power.
“I was like, maybe if I go hard enough, she won’t have enough of a kick to hang,” Woodruff said. “Then she came flying by.”
The pair finished in 1 hour, 55.41 minutes.
Amy Beisel of Colorado Springs, a Fat Bike World Champion and freshly crowned Marathon Mountain Bike National Champion, rounded out the women’s pro podium, finishing 4:36 back.
On the men’s side, 26-year-old Russell Finsterwald of Colorado Springs ran away with it, finishing in 1:39.33, more than a minute ahead of Clif teammate Ben Sonntag, 37. Both are XC specialists with numerous victories and national championships under their belts. Local triathlete Josiah Middaugh, fresh off a huge victory at the Xterra Dominican Republic, rounded out the podium, finishing 3:48 off of the pace.
“That was my goal, to be top three,” Middaugh said. “I’m just happy these guys let me race with them. I can climb with them, but then their bike handling skills are just so much better than mine.”
Holding true to his bionic, multi-sport nature, Middaugh will pluck up some more juice to compete in Sunday’s Road Bike Time Trial as well as Pepi’s Face-Off powered by Bang Energy.
GMC Kayak Freestyle
Everyone’s fingernails got a little shorter on Gore Creek Saturday, as just about every water event in the biggest competition day of the 2018 GoPro Mountain Games was a bona fide nail biter, none more so than the men’s division of the GMC Kayak Freestyle competition, however.
One of the oldest contests in the Mountain Games turned into one of the best on Saturday. After a seesaw battle between reigning Mountain Games champion Dane Jackson of Walling, TN, and U.S. Freestyle Team member Hunter Katich of Alabama saw the men trade leads for the first two rounds, the outcome wasn’t determined until top qualifier Jackson’s third and final ride in the Vail Whitewater Park. When the smoke cleared, a new champion was crowned.
Jackson set the pace in the first of three rounds, entering the competition hole with a precision combination into a “McNasty”and reeling off a series of technical tricks to set the bar at 1,476.67 points to Kadich’s 1,290. Using the biggest aerial tricks of the day to multiply his scores, Kadich, returned fire with second round score of 1,668.33 as Jackson improved to 1,58.67. Those scores would stand through the third and final round despite Jackson’s best effort to move to the top of the podium.
Meanwhile, Greg Parker, a PE teacher from Denver, quietly worked his way up through the ranks to grab the third spot on the podium with a score of 1,171.67, just 21 points ahead of former Freestyle World Champion Nick Troutman of Walling, TN. Tom Dolle of France finished fifth at 843.33.
Despite waning river flows, the contest hole stood up through the men’s event with some technological assistance from the inflatable airbags installed in the park that allowed kayakers to remain in the feature for their entire 60-second rides.
The women were slightly less fortunate as a minor glitch in the system left them with a less retentive wave and a more challenging contest. Multiple Mountain Games champion Emily Jackson still managed to throw a combination of aerial moves including some McNasties of her own and a sequence of technical tricks to put up the winning score of 460 points on her second of three runs.
At age 17, Sage Donnelly finished second with a score of 346.67, followed by 16-year-old Katie Frankenhouser of Lyons, CO, with 270. After competing in both the GMC Downriver Kayak Sprint and the TIAA Bank XC Mountain Bike Race earlier in the day, former women’s freestyle champ and 2017 runner-up Adriene Levknecht scored just 220 points to finish fourth while Abby Holcombe, 14, was fifth.
GMC Downriver Kayak Sprint
The times were comparably tight in the GMC Downriver Kayak Sprint, where defending champion Gerd Serrasolses won his second race of these Mountain Games. The Spaniard followed up his win in Thursday’s Oh Chute Kayak Challenge with the top time of 21 minutes, 44.51 seconds in Saturday’s 4-mile race down Gore Creek. Isaac Levinson of White Salmon, WA, placed second in 21:53.94, followed by Matias Lopez of Argentina in 21:54.14.
In a mildly surprising race for bragging rights, Eric “EJ” Jackson, 54, placed fifth (21:10.23), a mere .7 seconds faster than his 24-year-old son, Dane, in sixth place.
The women’s race saw another double winner with Nouria Newman collecting more cash after posting the top time of 22:16.44 as an encore to her Oh Chute Kayak Challenge win. Former Olympic kayak racer Jana Freeburn, 48, of Durango, was second in 22:21.72, followed by Adriene Levknecht in 22:24.92.Emily Jackson filled the fourth spot in 22:41.37.
YETI SUP Sprint
The YETI SUP Sprint on the same shallow-water course saw 2016 race winner Mike Tavares return to the top of the podium after finishing second last year. The Team Badfish paddler posted the top time of 22:28.91 to get the better of his teammate Spencer Lacy who placed second in 22:33.59.
The biggest surprise of the day was the third-place finish (22:37.12) by Rob Prechtl of Breckenridge in only his second year paddling SUP. Prechtl makes up half of El Chupacabra, the whitewater rafting team that also won the Pacifico Down River Sprint (23:32.35) and Friday’s Pacifico R2 Raft Cross. Dane Jackson and Bradley Hilton rounded out the top five in men’s SUP.
The seemingly ageless Charlie Macarthur, 58, finished sixth in 22:53.18 while 16-year-old upstart Miles Harvey was eighth in 23:08.38.
Yuka Sato of Japan won the women’s SUP Sprint in 23:02.78, nearly a minute faster than second-place finisher Brittany Parker in 24:00.62. Third went to Ashley Bean in 24:07.55 and kayaker Sage Donnelly was fourth in 24:07.55.
Costa 2 Fly X-Stream
After the always intense accuracy casting competition on Vail’s International Bridge, finalists were named in the Costa 2 Fly X-Stream fly fishing competition with Troy Garner leading the day-long qualifying contest. With gusting winds blowing in his face, Garner tapped the most targets to tally 14 points on the scorecard while the twin tandem of AJ Garcia and brother Jace Garcia each collected 13 points to earn the right to go fishing for money on Sunday.
Accommodating water levels will give the seven men and three women finalists the rare early-June opportunity to float fish on the nearby Eagle River, recently named one of the top 50 fishing spots in the nation by Field & Stream magazine.
Ultimate Mountain Challenge
The complication of this event makes tabulating scores a complicated task. There are thousands of competitors and 30 events in which athletes are scoring points toward the UMC. It’s complicated for the accountants we have working the Google Docs.
However, just as predicted, after Day 3 the cream is rising to the top. In the men’s category, Branden Rakita was starting get some breathing room from the watermen here at the games. Rakita has chosen to compete in the most diversified schedule to collect points. Putting him in the heat all day, he is just ahead of a group of strong kayakers and amazing athletes that include Matias Lopez, Nick Troutman and 54-year-old Eric Jackson .
On the women’s side, two female athletes have taken on a crazy schedule, both water women. Andriene Levknecht has moved ahead of Courtney Kerin, but not all the points are in. This battle might be tighter than the scores indicate. Chasing them is Ainsley Haggart.
Pepi’s Face Off on Sunday could be a big decider. It’s no picnic. We shall see.
Pacifico Slackline Invitational
“It’s a double into mojo tap spin, then a 180, ascension to a frog flip, and wow it’s a back-tastic.” The Pacifico Slackline Invitational commentator Shawn Couch couldn’t keep the excitement out of his voice as he rattled off the combo tricks performed by the world’s best Slackliners during the semi-final competition on Saturday at the GoPro Mountain Games.
The majority of the crowd didn’t understand the Slackline lingo, but you don’t have to speak the language to enjoy this sport. The performances speak for themselves. And “performance” really is the best way to describe what these athletes do, because when it comes to Slacklining, spectacle is half the battle. The other half is impeccable technical skill, which Saturday’s competitors brought in plenty. The stakes were raised as 12 passionate athletes were narrowed down to the final eight, who will battle it out in the finals on Sunday.
Couch explained that the athletes on the GoPro Mountain Games stage were literal game changers, not only putting up some of the strongest competition scores in Slackline history, but also redefining winning acts.
“It used to be a game about single tricks, but it’s not that stage anymore. Right now the things that impress me most are the combos, being able to sync one into the next, like doing a double butt flip into a double butt backflip,” he said. Of course, big tricks are still a huge part of the game, and they amp the audience up. Crowd favorite Rikuto Nokamura, at just 9 years old, won major points with his signature move, the Impossible Flip. Nokamura isn’t even tall enough to reach the Slackline, but he’s already one of the top competitors, taking third place on Saturday. Nokamura is from Japan and speaks very little English, but when asked if he was ready for the finals on Sunday, he gave two huge thumbs up.
Japan is just one of the many countries represented by the finalists. Others include Germany, Peru, Brazil, and Chile where the current first place athlete Abraham Hernandez hails from.
It’s sure to be an excellent show on Sunday in Solaris Plaza for the final round of the 2018 Pacifico Slackline Invitational, when the eight finalists quite literally put everything they’ve got out on the line.
Dock Dogs Big Air
Dog Town was packed with spectators on Saturday for two Big Air competitions and the Extreme Vertical competition. Journeying across the states from New Hampshire to compete in the GoPro Mountain Games were Steve Hellwig and his dog Baxter, who reached a height of 6 feet, 10 inches. This was just shy of the winning duo of Dane Seidlitz and Aegon, who finished at seven ft, 6 in. The day also saw over 120 competitors trying to qualify for Sunday’s Big Air finals, which, along with Speed Retrieve, will wrap up the 2018 GoPro Mountain Games Dock Dogs competitions.
Mountain Mud Run
Judging by the ear-to-ear smiles, Mud Run competitors were not too considered about ingesting sludge. Indeed, many reveled in covering themselves head to toe in pure brown slime as they crawled, scooted, sprinted and slogged through two mud pits and a lap course. It ended in a massive, soapy slip-and-slide, which succeeded in scrubbing off at least a little of the caked-on goo.
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