by Scott Willoughby, Shauna Farnel, Tom Boyd and Kate Peters
UPDATED AT 10:03 p.m. June 10, 2017
It’s safe to say that the swirling vortex of athletic power reached its pinnacle on Saturday as various vessels splashed down Gore Creek, mud monsters splattered around Vail Village, fat tire riders hammered up the mountain and the world’s No. 1 climbers tackled wall problems that looked positively impossible.
The idea of world-champion kayaker Nick Troutman competing in a running race is about as expected as finding all your socks after they’ve been through the dryer. Nonetheless, that’s what happened Friday in the TriggerPoint Ultimate Mountain Challenge when Troutman, motivated to out-do his brother-in-law Dane Jackson, completed the Superfeet Apres 5K and … after a near-frenetic Saturday he came out on top in the suddenly ultra-competitive new version of the event.
Troutman has 22 points heading into Sunday, ahead of Jackson with 19, and Branden Rakiata with 16. Twelve-hundred big ones are at stake for first place, with $1,000 going to second place and $500 to third.
On the women’s side, the champion of last year’s very-differently-formatted UMC has shown that she can’t be pushed aside so easily. Gretchen Reeves has earned the right to wear the prestigious L.L.Bean Yellow Jersey on Sunday with 17 points and a lot on her plate for tomorrow. SUP World-Champion Annabel Anderson has stayed true to her plan of pushing her body to the limits and has collected 15 points for second heading into a day tomorrow that would make even the toughest flowers wilt – but not the highly-fashionable Annabel, who borrowed some spectacular ’90s era gear so she could compete in the GoPro Mtn Enduro and gain those precious points (and by the way, she rode that Enduro on a hard tail).
In third with 12 points is Emily Jackson, wife of UMC men’s leader Nick Troutman. Could the duo become the king and queen of the Mountain Games metaphorical prom?
Wow do we have a race. Keep up with leaderboards throughout town and online to find out who will be on the podium for this first-ever new version of this event.
The solitary stop in America for the IFSC Climbing World Cup, the Finals saw a whittled down field of only cream-of-the-crop climbers from every stretch of the globe. We’re talking real-life Spidermen and Spiderwomen. On the men’s side, after Team Japan dominated the Qualification and Semi-Final rounds, Korean Jongwon Chon suddenly made the final walls of impossible problems look almost easy. The 2015 World Cup champion made four nearly flawless ascents for gold as Japan’s Meichi Narasaki took silver and his teammate, Yoshiyuki Ogata landed bronze.
On the women’s side, after finishing a close runner up at last year’s World Cup in Vail, British climber Shauna Coxsey scrambled to gold on Saturday, sneaking past Japan’s Akijo Noguchi and Miho Nonaka, who took silver and bronze. The hero story of the day, however, goes to U.S. Climber Alex Puccio. The American veteran who turns 28 next week had consistently been the top American woman at the World Cup in Vail, and landed gold back in 2009. But she befell two years of bad luck at the GoPro Mountain Games, sustaining torn knee ligaments in 2015 and a disc injury last year that called for emergency spinal surgery. Her comeback surge has mounted over the last few months, including her 10th national bouldering title in February. Much like that title, she had no expectations coming into Vail.
On her last ascent in Finals, on the wall featuring one prominent problem – a giant, upside-down block that several competitors could not so much as figure out how to grab – Puccio displayed her monkey-like prowess. On her first attempt, she used what looked like every tiny muscle in all of her limbs to scale the block, made a flying leap to the top problem and missed. As the crowd chanted, “Alex! Alex! Alex,” the Colorado-based climber tried a second time, once again swinging and crawling over the hanging block. This time she dove and made it to the top. She ended up finishing in fourth place, just off the podium.
“I could have done better on a couple but I’m totally happy with how I did, especially because I didn’t really train for this event,” Puccio said, adding that she typically climbs outside (and holds several female records for scaling some of the nation’s most difficult natural walls.
When asked if she had any interest in gunning for the Tokyo Games in 2020 when climbing makes its Olympic debut, she sounded dubious. “If I went, it would just be for the experience of going to the Olympics,” she said. “I’ll be 30 …”
As Gore Creek through Vail hit its peak flows of the year, there was little margin for error in the trilogy of downriver races that serve as the highlight for many competitors at the GoPro Mountain Games. Top finishers in the men’s divisions of kayak, SUP and raft races were each separated by 2 seconds or less. Women’s divisions were comparably competitive.
Meanwhile, international athletes brought their “A” games to the Mountain Games. Other than the Tudor Down River R2 Raft Sprint won by local Vail paddlers Jeremiah Williams and Rob Prechtl (affectionately known as team “El Chupacabra”), not a single American reached the top of the podium in downriver racing. Williams and Prechtl edged out another pair of local raft racers, Kurt Kincel of Edwards and Matt Norfleet of Breckenridge, by 2.04 seconds to claim first prize with a time of 19:42.52. John Seelig and Chris Reeder, also Vail Valley locals, were third, 3.65 seconds off the pace.
Saturday’s biggest surprise may have come in the Yeti Down River SUP Sprint, where Masayuki “Yacu” Takahata of Japan dethroned reigning SUP Sprint champion and everyone’s All-American paddler Spencer Lacy of Boulder, CO, with a winning time of 18:42.85. Following Lacy out of the starting gate, Takahata managed to carve 1.08 seconds from the start interval to win his first Mountain Games gold.
“I wasn’t thinking anything about winning. I was just thinking to do my best. I feel that it’s my responsibility to express everything that I have to share with the other competitors. I did that and the result came,”said the ever-humble Takahashi, 43. “I think everything is given. On the course, Spencer was giving me so much energy and there are so many people on the riverside cheering for us and there are many people helping out for us to be here. I won by just 1.08 seconds, but that didn’t come from me. That was given by everyone’s energy.”
Lacy’s Badfish River SUP teammate Mike Tavares of Salt Lake City finished third in the field of 60 men in 18:57.83.
In the women’s race, Annabel Anderson of Wanaka, New Zealand, started first and finished first, 6.99 seconds faster than Olympic slalom kayaking medalist Rebecca Giddens of Kernville, CA. Anderson finished in 19:56.25. Third place went to Hiroko Sasaki of Tokyo in 20:26.83, less than one second ahead of Camille Swan from Springville, UT.
Gerd Serrasolses of Sort, Spain, must have caught the one extra pulse of current on Gore Creek to push his kayak across the finish line 1.34 seconds ahead of Matias Lopez of San Rafael, CO, in respective times of 16:55.98 and 16:57.32. Downriver racing veteran Mike Freeburn, 53, from Durango, CO, was third in 17:01.63.
Kiwi Martina Wegman, 27, took the women’s crown in 17:20.21, followed by fellow Durangotang Jana Freeburn, 47, in 17:33.04. Adriene Levknecht of Greenville, SC, was third (17:35.06), just ahead of Giddens in 17:41.41.
Gore Creek turned into victory lane for defending Coors Light Freestyle Kayak champions Dane and Emily Jackson on Saturday afternoon at the Vail Whitewater Park. Paddling kayaks designed and built by their father, Eric, the brother and sister teammates from Walling, TN, each enjoyed a victory lap on their final hole ride as a rowdy crowd of freestyle fans cheered them on from shore. For 27-year-old Emily, the winning score of 400 points from her first of three rides required a 236-point boost from her second ride in order to break a tie with Adriene Levknecht from South Carolina after the Team Dagger paddler nailed a series of big scoring moves with big air bonuses to tie the score in the final round. The tie-breaker pushed reigning World Champion Emily Jackson to the top of the Mountain Games podium for a record 10th time, losing the contest only twice (while she was pregnant). Junior World Champion Sage Donnelly, 16, finished a close third with 391.67 points.
Dane’s victory was equally hard-fought as crystal clear skies and temperatures rising to 80 degrees brought water levels in Gore Creek up with it. As the contest hole grew larger throughout the afternoon, so did the aerial tricks and Dane pulled off the day’s only 1,000+ point ride on his second attempt. Matthieu Dumoulin of France upped the amplitude to put up a fierce fight on his final hole ride, moving into second place with a score of 896.67 to Jackson’s 1,210. Likewise, 2013 Junior World Champion Hunter Katich threw down a flurry of high-scoring Phonics Monkeys, McNasty’s and Space Godzillas to finish third with 861.67.
Ultimately the reigning “Senior” World Champion’s combination of technical prowess, fluid combinations and monster aerials proved too good to beat as Jackson, 23, became the most dedicated whitewater competitor at the 2017 GoPro Mountain Games. In addition to winning the Coors Light Kayak Freestyle, Dane won the Coors Light Steep Creek Championships on Thursday and finished fourth in the Coors light Down River Sprint and seventh in the Yeti SUP Sprint earlier on Saturday.
Collin Reimer was the last angler to qualify for Saturday’s semi-finals of the Costa 2-Fly X-Stream Fly Fishing and the first to qualify for the finals on Sunday. Seven men and three women earned the right to fish on Sunday by combining casting distance and accuracy in the morning qualifying round, then stepping onto the stage at Vail’s International Bridge to hit a series of targets under pressure as crowds gathered around the arena. At age 19, Reimer, a fishing guide from Colorado’s Front Range, was also the youngest to qualify for the finals, which he did by hitting suspended targets on 14 of 15 casting attempts, plus one bonus target, for a score of 15. Three other fly casters scored 11 points while top female qualifier Camille Egdorf tallied 7 points. The top 10-anglers now move to the Colorado River to truly test their fly fishing skills while casting from boats as the snowmelt runoff reaches its peak. To make things even more difficult, competitors are only allowed to select two different fly patterns with a maximum of six flies.
It’s tough to make that top step of the podium when biking badass Howard Grotts is around. The Olympic racer from Durango nailed his fifth straight win in the EverBank X-Country Mountain Bike race. Grotts, who has previously referred to the picturesque but taxing Vail Mountain course as “old school” compared to the manicured courses he’s used to racing on in the World Cup, edged out Durango neighbor and three-time Leadville 100 winner Todd Wells by more than five minutes. The next pair of pros hammered for the final step of the podium and Boulder’s Grant Ellwood made it happen, beating local triathlete Josiah Middaugh by 33 minutes. U.S. National Mountain Bike Champion took top honors for the second year straight among the pro women, handedly whopping the rest of the field by more than five minutes as Colorado Springs rider Amy Beisel took second and Olympian Lea Davidson of Vermont rounded out the podium.
Clearly, some runners like to roll around in mud more than other. But considering that this year’s Kyocera Mountain Mud Run course kicked off with an army crawl through a slop trough, most e everyone was pretty well caked in brown. This did not deter course marshal Maddox from high-fiving everyone as they powered toward the finish line. Her dripping brown hand told the story.
Qualifying rounds wrapped up Saturday, with 64 men and eight women advancing to play in the finals Sunday– an 18-hole course at Maloit Park in Minturn. The two top qualifiers were Colten Montgomery (men’s) and Des Redding (women’s). Montgomery threw the fastest disc of the day at 65 mph, landing him the top spot going into Sunday.
“This is my first year playing at the GoPro Mountain Games, and it won’t be my last,” said Colten Montgomery of Longmont. “The views are beautiful and it’s a different crowd than you see at other disc golf tournaments. I played alongside a father and his 14-year-old today, which was amazing.”
Finals Sunday at Maloit Park kickoff with a 9 a.m. shotgun start. For the best spectating, meet in the main parking lot of Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy. The lead card will kick off at 9:10, and you can follow the crowd of spectators to catch the best of the best action.
Gina Caputo’s Yoga for the People class lived up to its name, filling the Zen Zone lawn at Ford Park with so many people the place resembled a checkerboard of sculpted, vibrant, well-balanced bodies. Similar specimens returned to the site to temp gravity, dangling into poses in the ever-popular AlReal Yoga afternoon classes.
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