Teva Games bring record crowds to Vail | VailDaily.com

Teva Games bring record crowds to Vail

Melanie Wong
Vail, CO Colorado
Kristin Anderson/Vail DailyAlex Puccio competes in the speed bouldering finals before placing first in the event Sunday during the Teva Mountain Games in Vail, Colorado
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VAIL, Colorado – Vail resident Kristin Williams wasn’t expecting huge crowds and an array of sporting events when she took her family to the Teva Mountain Games this year.

“The last time I went about five years ago, it was just a little kayaking event, and you hung out around the International Bridge,” she said. “I had no idea how big it was, and how many events there were.”

In fact, thousands athletes and spectators converged upon Vail Village during the four-day event to watch kayaking, climbing, biking, running and even dog-jumping competitions. Demo booths lined the village streets, and crowds enjoyed giveaways, free concerts and films, and family activities during the outdoor sports festival.

“It was a great atmosphere, and it was great to see Vail Village that packed in early June,” Williams said. “We ran into friends all day, which was fun. What started as a morning bike ride turned into an all-day outing.”

When the mountain games began eight years ago, the event drew 256 athletes and 3,000 to 5,000 spectators, said Joel Heath, global marketing director for Teva and founder of the event.

This year, the Vail Valley Foundation, which took over the event for the first time, reported well over 1,600 athletes and over 35,000 spectators in attendance.

Mike Imhof, the foundation’s vice president of operations and sales, called this year’s event a success.

“Overall we were very pleased,” he said. “I feel like we were able to keep the spirit and legacy of the event alive.”

The Teva Games established credibility as a world-class sporting event, by drawing top pros in many sports, Imhof said.

Tokyo Joe’s rider Jay Henry noticed the caliber of competition as he zoomed past the start/finish line of the cross country mountain bike race.

“After the first lap, I saw my time. I was expecting around 30 minutes, but the time said about 27 minutes,” he said. “I was sort of laughing at myself. It was a national race out there – nobody was missing from among the best riders.”

Climbers at the World Cup bouldering event competed against the best as well. The competition, which is the only climbing World Cup in the United States, drew the top European pros.

“It’s amazing to have the World Cup here,” said the U.S.’s Alex Puccio, who won the women’s competition. “It’s awesome because not a lot of Americans can go overseas. This gives us a chance to show them that we’re decent climbers over here, too.”

The kayaking competitions, the most established part of the event, are easily some of the biggest and most respected races in the kayaking world, said professional Vail Valley kayaker Brad Ludden.

“It’s an international field, which you don’t get in many events, and it’s as good and as challenging course wise as anything else,” said Ludden, who has attended the Teva Games since its beginning.

“Every year you show up and are amazed at how many new competitors are there,” he said. “It shows that our sport is alive and growing, and the Teva Games are becoming a proving grounds for people to show up and be a part of it.”

Getting financial backers for this year’s event was tougher in a bad economy, but organizers managed to get the sponsorships needed, Imhof said.

In fact, the event had at least 35 more businesses setting up expo booths compared to last year, he said.

“It’s a testament to the event that even in these down markets, brands see it as a place where they need to be,” he said.

The games’ biggest sponsor, Teva, has a contract to support the games through 2012.

“We’ve had a lot of success with the event,” said Heath, of Teva. “We don’t think of ourselves as a sponsor, more a partner, but we’ve become synonymous with the event. It gives us tremendous exposure and continues to place Teva as premiere adventure brand.”

Several top financial sponsors’ contracts ended this year, and organizers will be looking to renew those commitments, Imhof said.

“So far from what we’ve heard, feedback has been that they’re very much on board,” he said.

Imhof said the foundation plans to continue growing all the athletic events, including the new half-marathon. Amateur participation was strong this year, and Imhof hopes the trend will continue.

“The vision of the games is that you’re at the same starting line as the pros,” he said.

Many amateur events filled up this year, and some grew, such as the mud run – last year, about 200 participants ran the muddy trails, and this year the event had almost 400 runners.

Next year, the foundation also hopes to expand the events’ family-friendly activities, and free movies and concerts. Those additional activities and the cross-section of sports represented are what have made the games successful, Heath said.

“The mountain games are very unique in that they’re more than just a start/finish line,” he said. “It’s about a lot more than just one sport, and there aren’t really many other opportunities like that.”

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2928 or mwong@vaildaily.com.