National champions once again
Last year to win the title of national whitewater champions, local teams Behind the 8 Ball and Timberline Women had to roadtrip 1,500 miles to West Virginia to paddle on the Gauley River.This year, with the 2004 Whitewater Cup held on the pulsing whitewater in Gore Canyon, the journey to becoming repeat national champions was just a short trip out the front door.Or, back door, if you’re into clichés.
The three-day competition, held Aug. 20-22, is the crowning event in U.S. whitewater rafting and decides the respective national representatives for men’s and women’s teams for the following calendar year. Just like last year on the Gauley, both Vail teams cruised to the title, with neither team losing a single race in the sprint, slalom or downriver competitions to pick up perfect combined scores of 1000.Behind the 8 Ball’s nearest competitor was Clear Creek Rafting out of Idaho Springs which finished second in both the slalom and downriver competitions and third in the sprint race to notch a final combined score of 853.Timberline Women had only the Rivermen/AVA team from West Virginia to paddle against in the two-team women’s competition, but buried the competition, nonetheless.Now for team members Chris “Mongo” Reeder, Chip Carney, Mike Reed, Ollie Dose, Todd Toledo and Ben Bungartz of Behind the 8 Ball and Katherine “Bugs” Bugby, Cristin Zimmer, Lizzie Burnett, Gabriella Knedlik, Lisa Sackville and Jody Swoboda of Timberline Women, it’s onto representing the United States at the 2005 World Rafting Championships in Ecuador.”I think that for us to win it twice in a row and to stay the reigning champions, it feels like all the experience and all the practice and the work is finally paying off,” Bugby said. “You can tell when we race now, because we have the experience, we’ve taken things from all of our successes and failures and put them into a winning formula.”
While the win for the women represented back-to-back titles, the men’s team has now won the Whitewater Cup for three straight years.It’s a feat that team captain Reed is proud of, especially considering the tough competition from the five other teams in this year’s cup.There’s no doubt that Clear Creek, Behind the 8 Ball’s chief nemesis during the competitive whitewater season each year, has worked tirelessly to unseat the reigning champs.Reed’s team continues to stay one boat length ahead, however.”To win for the third year, it’s nice,” Reed said. “It’s always a lot of pressure going into the national. It’s like an Olympic trial, where if you blow it, you’re no longer the national team, so the opportunity to race internationally no longer exists. All that training, all that hard work can go right out the window.”Home river advantage
Reed believes that both Vail teams would have paddled to repeat titles even if this year’s cup had not been held in conjunction with the Gore Canyon Race here in Eagle County.Having nationals at home on a stretch of river on which both teams train and guide professionally, however, only made things easier.”It’s an obvious advantage,” he said. “We get to sleep at home and it’s our backyard river. Most of the guys are or have been commercial guides on that section. It’s a real distinct advantage. Still, for how hard we practice, we probably knew the Gauley better last year than the local guides that we were competing against.”Sackville, of the women’s team, said that the home river advantage – especially in the downriver competition – was important because the Gore is so technical that one wrong move can blow an entire run.Hard late-summer rains before and during the three days of paddling brought the river’s water level up considerably, too, meaning faster times, but tougher moves.”We made some moves that some of the guys teams didn’t make,” Sackville said. “One day, it got a little high on the downriver race and there are definitely some moves you must make. There are some serious consequences if you don’t. In the downriver, there’s some carnage that can happen.”
A busy offseasonNow comes the hard part for Vail’s two national-champion whitewater teams.Winning the title is hard, but raising enough money to make the trip to Ecuador next year as well as other international paddling competitions that the teams hope to compete in may be harder since there is no U.S. whitewater governing body to provide funds for training and travel expenses.It’s a responsibility that both teams accept although it means that there won’t be much off time this offseason.”It can be tough to come up with the money, but it’s always worth it,” “Mongo” Reeder said. “It’s such an honor to be able to go and represent the U.S. It’s kind of hard to track down the money from sponsors and fund-raisers, but it’s definitely something that is worth doing.”
Reeder also believes that with the way his team has consistently improved over the last three years, giving people the opportunity to make an investment to support their local team should be money well spent.At the 2003 worlds held in the Czech Republic, Behind the 8 Ball finished fourth overall and took home a bronze medal in the sprint competition. “At the current level were paddling at, we should be able to compete for that world championship,” he said “It was great experience the first time we went, and we should build off that experience. It would be really nice to come back with those gold medals. That would be awesome.” Contact Nate Peterson at 949-0555, ext. 608, or via e-mail at email@example.comVail Colorado