RED CLIFF — Bouncing over the “Leap of Faith” waterfall perfectly Thursday, Isaac Levinson upset favorite Dane Jackson to win the kayaking Steep Creek Championship at the GoPro Mountain Games.
Levinson, when credited by Jackson’s camp with the flawless execution of the make-or-break feature, said it was the perfect conditions on Homestake Creek that allowed him to run the course — which culminates with the Leap of Faith at the bottom — so well on Thursday.
“I would like to give myself some credit, but I think it’s the water levels,” he said. “It was a great run though, I’m really happy with it.”
On the women’s side, Martina Wegman, of the Netherlands, dominated finals, but the big story of the day just may have been the second-place finisher, 13-year-old Sage Donnelly, of Carson City, Nevada, appearing in her first-ever Mountain Games.
“The course was so fun,” she said. “Really fast.”
The first event of the Mountain Games every year, the Steep Creek Championship, is one of the games’ marquee competitions, and it has been branded as an integral part of the annual celebration of mountain sport and lifestyle. The fact that it is the only Mountain Games event to take place outside of Vail is a testament to the iconic nature of the Homestake Creek course, a whitewater haven once known only to local residents.
Ken Hoeve, of Gypsum, helped bring the venue to competition format, (paddlers are timed down the quarter-mile section of creek), and on Thursday he was blown away by how far it has come.
“All the best kayakers in the world are here,” he said.
MUST PADDLE PERFECTLY
Among the field of elite kayakers were American athletes including freestyle world champion Nick Troutman and his brother-in-law Dane Jackson, son of kayaking legend and Jackson Kayak namesake Eric Jackson. Jordan Poffenberger, of Fairfax, Virginia, is the 2013 Freestyle Kayaking world champion, and he didn’t make finals at Thursday’s Steep Creek Championship.
“This year there are a lot of really good paddlers,” Poffenberger said. “The times this year are some of the fastest times I’ve seen ever.”
Dane Jackson said competitors had to paddle perfectly through the course’s wide range of features — rocks, holes, flat spots and cliffs — to make finals.
“The whole course, every moment has something you have to be ready to do right, otherwise you can lose the race,” Dane Jackson said. “Whether it’s the mank (jagged rock beneath the surface), the bird bath (whirlpool-like) section or the Leap of Faith, it’s all difficult. You’ve got to be on your blades and ready to go,” he said. “Everybody out here is so fast and smooth, I’m just trying to hold my game with them.”
RED BULL AT RED CLIFF
The field was also deep internationally, with several European kayaking stars present and Rafa Ortiz, of Mexico, saluting the crowd with a couple of impressive runs but failing to make the 10-man final. Ortiz, a Red Bull athlete along with Jackson, made international headlines in 2012 when he kayaked over the Palouse Falls in Washington, which at 189 feet are 17 feet higher than Niagara Falls.
Joe Morley, of England, finished third behind Levinson and Jackson; it was his first-ever appearance at the Mountain Games.
“I love the course, it’s so steep,” he said. “Normally we don’t get to do something this steep. It’s tight, with really small margins to make.”
Three of the top five women were from outside of the U.S., with Louise Jull, of New Zealand, rounding out the podium in third.
Cheering on his daughter during the finals, Matt Donnelly sprinted alongside her as she charged down the whitewater, avoiding the crowd of hundreds as he yelled, “Go Sage!”
“She sets her goals and works hard, and we just try to support her,” he said.
Staff Writer John LaConte can be reached at 970-748-2988 and firstname.lastname@example.org