America’s rafts gear up for Korea
Vail CO, Colorado
At any world championships, competitors talk about how happy they are just to be there.
Members of the U.S. Rafting Team are undoubtedly proud to represent their country and hometowns. They’re also thrilled to be heading to South Korea next week for the 2007 World Rafting Championships.
But in what will be the third, fourth or fifth appearance for some of the rafters, the expectation level is a lot higher than showing up and competing.
“We want to win,” said Lisa Reeder, the captain of the women’s boat. “You always want to win, and I think our chances are really good.”
Reeder, who has gone to the biennial worlds since 2001, will be joined by two other members who went to Ecuador for the 2005 World Rafting Championships as part of the same Eagle County-based team.
The men’s boat ” also entirely local ” brings back five of the six members on the bronze-medal boat from 2005.
“For four of us, this is our third world championships,” said Mike Reed. “Experience starts to play a role in it ” it’s great to have that on your side.”
Both the men’s and women’s teams are banking on more than experience to put them in medal contention. Since April, both teams have been out on the river three or four days a week paddling. Most of the members are already on the water all day, working as guides at Timberline Tours.
“We have three active guides, and several people on our team are big kayakers,” Reeder said.
Even before they hit the water, team members were in the gym this winter.
“We feel good,” Reed said. “We train really hard and have a great training program. The margin is so close ” the top five teams are so good that you have to bring your ‘A’ and get a little of luck, or you are done.”
The U.S. boats ran into a little bit of luck when the 2007 worlds were scheduled for June 27 to July 2. In 2005, worlds were in September, just as the Colorado rafting season was coming to an end.
“We’ve been able to come off three months of lifting and months of paddling,” Reed said. “We haven’t had a whole river-guiding season to beat us up.”
The World Rafting Championships have three races: A head-to-head sprint, a slalom and a downriver. Sprint and slalom winners receive 300 points, while the downriver winner gets 400. Points are combined for the overall winner. Teams take a preliminary run for seeding in the sprint race, while the best of two times are used for the slalom race.
Although the U.S. boats spend plenty of time in the water together, practicing for the three events isn’t always easy.
Head-to-head sprint races are rare, but the men’s team got some practice recently at the Teva Mountain Games.
“There are a lot of good teams coming up through the ranks of the racing scene,” Reed said. “But getting real competition in the U.S. is hard. … We train so much more than everyone else.”
In 2005, the U.S. men’s boat won the sprint race, took sixth in slalom and fifth in downriver. The women, sixth overall, had consistent showings in each event and expect to be stronger this time around.
“We’re always pretty strong in the sprint,” Reeder said. “We also are always really good contenders in downriver. Slalom is our weak point, but we had a course on the Eagle River for the first time, and we were able to practice. … If we can be in the middle of the pack (in slalom), that’ll help our overall chances.”
The men’s team is hoping that the Naerinchon River’s Class III-IV rapids will be on the harder side when they arrive next week.
“We’re better in technical water than most teams, so we want it to be big and bumpy and challenging,” Reed said.
Before official practice begins, the teams will get some days on the water to scope things out.
“We’ll go to the sprint course and figure out where the fastest current is and how to approach it,” Reed said. “On the slalom, you know where the course will be, but not where the gates will be, so you play in the eddy lines and waves. The downriver is trying to memorize 10 miles of water in three of four times down. It’s six people talking about it and committing it to memory.”
When the competition is over, both teams will have a day to rest and then will head right back to work. As nice as it may feel physically to head into a race in midseason form, it is difficult from the business end to be gone during the heavy-business season for rafting. Reeder, along with her husband, Chris “Mongo” Reeder, a member of the men’s team, are both part-owners of Timberline Tours.
“It’s very tough,” Lisa Reeder said. “But this is something we were aware of after the middle of the season last year (when they qualified at U.S. Nationals).”
Greg Kelchner, who has been one of the owners of Timberline Tours for 37 years, understands that it’s crunch time for business but fully supports his employees’ passion.
“It’s like ski instructors going on break for Christmas,” Kelchner said. “But we’ve got a lot of depth (at Timberline Tours).
“Everybody wants three things in a job. To have fun, take pride in it and make a living. This is an opportunity for them to (do that), and how do you not be supportive of it?”
Kelchner is one of many supporting the team financially, as there is almost no national sponsorship for either squad.
“Support is truly at the local level,” Reeder said. “We’ve spent ample time working on fundraising and trying to get sponsors and being a little concerned about being able to financially support the trip.”
Thanks to the generosity of businesses and individuals, the teams are in good shape. And winning the few cash-prize events helps, too.
“We look at those events … like it’s a business day,” Reed said. “When you go to those, you go to win because we need the money.”
Before they head to South Korea, both teams have some business to take care of next week at U.S. Nationals on the Arkansas River.
Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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