Berman, Kelly conquer Homestake |

Berman, Kelly conquer Homestake

TMG Katie Hilleke KA 5-31-07

HOMESTAKE ” Humans need water to live.

And kayakers live for water. Lots of it.

At Thursday’s Dagger Steep Creek Championship at Homestake Creek, boaters got to enjoy higher-than-normal water levels across a stretch of Class V rapids.

Tao Berman navigated the course faster than anyone else on the first run, then had a solid second run to pick up the win. Local Brad Ludden, who was sitting in second after his first ascent and had the fastest second run, but came up about two seconds short of Berman. Andrew Holcombe moved up one spot on his second pass to finish in third.

For most of the race, the creek was running at just over 100 cubic feet per second, as Vail Resorts released water for the race. Last year the creek ran at less than 50 cfs for the race.

“Having Vail release it like that means the world to us athletes,” Ludden said. “Water is such a precious commodity anywhere in the world now, that anytime you get it, that’s something to be pretty excited about.”

“The levels were perfect,” Berman said. “(Teva) has done a great job at creating the perfect venue for kayakers to come from all over the world and enjoy the course.”

When the levels were lower last year, competitors were more likely to get caught up on rocks. With the higher flow, the boaters had more leeway in areas.

“It was a bit more of a cushion,” said Nikki Kelly, who won the women’s race ” her second victory in as many days. “You could really grab water and go places and jump off stuff.”

The faster water did cause racers to be a bit more vigilant in their choice of line.

“It’s padded, but it’ll force you into a place you don’t want to be a lot quicker,” said Ben Stookesberry.

As all kayakers know, nature can be a variable force. When one of the female finalists, Valerie Bertrand, rolled and injured herself, she had to be transported across the creek by the rescue team. During the long course delay, the men’s kayakers saw the water levels start to drop.

“It dropped about an inch in 10 minutes,” said Pat Keller.

Instead of running the finals in reverse order, the organizers decided to send the fastest boaters from the first run down at the start.

The top four racers, separated by less than two seconds, had to get in their boats and onto the launch ramp sooner than expected.

“On race day, I’m always ready for the unexpected,” Berman said. “I’m eating right to try and keep my energy level where it needs to be to race. I would have liked to have had a extra couple minutes to walk down and see how the course had changed because the water levels had dropped, but, whatever, I more or less knew what to expect.”

The lower flow, however, wasn’t much of a problem for Berman.

“One aspect of the sport that I really like is that the water levels are always changing, making the lines I choose different. It’s not like skateboarding or BMX, where you have zero variables other than yourself and your skateboard ” and you can control those completely. In my sport, water levels are a big factor like we saw (here). And they changed a lot, and it made the second run feel different from the first run.”

Ludden came down right after Berman, taking a time of 1 minute, 46.9 seconds ” 0.1 seconds better than Berman. But Berman’s first run of 1:42.8 gave him enough of a cushion.

“There was just some great competition, so to be able to beat the caliber off field that was out here, it’s a good feeling,” Berman said.

Ludden, the only Coloradan in the top 10, was glad to perform well in front of the home crowd.

“It’s more important to do in front of your friends than anywhere else, or else they don’t believe you,” Ludden said. “This is the event I’ve been focusing on for the (Teva) Games. I’m pretty proud of myself and how I paddled. The (second-place) finish is secondary.”

The later part of the finals draw had slower times, but the competitors didn’t mind the changed format.

“I was thinking to myself, ‘How on earth can I move into the top 10. Well if the water dropped out on them, I have a shot,'” said Stookesberry, who was in 19th after his first run. “But they had to (change) it for sure. Brad had the fastest run, so that’s really where the competition was ” with the top four guys.”

Kelly distanced herself from her friend Tanya Faux after the first run, earning a four-and-a-half second lead. Even with a time that would have put her in seventh on the men’s side (1:51.0), Kelly wasn’t totally satisfied with her run.

“I’m a bit of a perfectionist,” she said. “Part of my first half of the run, I wasn’t happy with, so I tried to improve that.”

On her second run, Kelly came in at 1:52.7, while Faux got caught up on rocks and was disqualified.

“I was happy because I cleared everything,” Kelly said. “But you just don’t know if you’ve won or not. I don’t get excited until I get that check in my hand.”

Kelly picked up a $2,000 check later on, adding to her $1,000 from winning Wednesday’s kayak paddlecross.

With a combined time of 3:43.7, Kelly would have been eighth in the men’s race.

“Me being a perfectionist, I could have cleaned up a couple of place, and could have shaved off a few seconds,” Kelly said. “I love it when we can get up there with the guys. You want the same respect. The guys respect us. We’re getting the same prize money, so you want to be right up there. We do it quite often at races. Tanya was (10th after her first run) with the guys, and I was up at Steamboat on Monday and got second in the men’s, so you know, we try to do it as much as we can.”

Lizzie English, running the race for her first time, was second.

“This morning, I got two good runs in,” English said. “My race runs were quite better than my practice runs.”

Katie Killeke, in her first race back since battling colon cancer, was third.

Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or

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