Vail Teva Games: Jackson and Urban top freestyle again
VAIL, Colorado- In the parlance of the Teva Mountain Games, the water level for Gore Creek was absolutely sick and epic for Saturday’s freestyle kayak finals.
In the Queen’s English, that means Mountain Games organizers let out the bladders, underwater devices used to control the water flow in the water park, as the whitewater rose to unseen levels for the competition.
The traditional judging area on the kayaker’s right was underwater. There were numerous course holds for large logs entering the hole, including a entire tree stump. And softballs hit from Ford Park are probably in Grand Junction by now.
“The river was amazingly high,” Teva kayaking queen Emily Jackson said. “I’ve been here – what – six, seven years now, and never have I seen water this insane.”
“My whole plan basically went out the window because it was a new wave,” Buena Vista’s Dustin Urban said.
But when all was said in done, you can pump the entire Pacific Ocean into the Gore and it won’t matter. Jackson owns the Gore and got her sixth-straight women’s win with a clutch third and final ride, while Urban won his second men’s crown in three years.
“Six in a row feels really good,” Jackson said. “I definitely am proud to keep coming back and keep paddling well. The women’s class is stepping it up every year. It’s not getting any easier. You have to be your best.”
Jackson (260 points) overcame a stiff challenge from Australia’s Tanya Faux (180) and Liz Block (Paducah, Kentucky). Urban (590) held off late charge from 16-year-old wunderkind Jason Craig (500) of Reno, Nevada, and the Netherlands’ Casper Van Kalmthout (355).
In past rodeos, especially in the finals, competitors entered with a checklist of tricks and ran through them like a shopping list – loops, cartwheel, space Godzilla (a loop with a twist), etc.
With high water, the freestyle finals became a completely different ball game. With the help of the bladders, the creek was rolling at 1,400 cubic feet per square inch (CFS) at the beginning of the women’s competition. A mere 45 minutes later, it was at 1,580 CFS for the men.
The creek got so high that Faux banged her head on International Bridge, trying to paddle back into the hole after being flushed on one of her runs. Craig, concerned about debris, started his third run, the one which vaulted him into second position, from the hole instead of swooping down from the east, his normal routine.
Because of high creek flows, paddlers couldn’t stick their tricks in the hole consistently, often getting flushed out, losing precious time from their 60-second runs. In the women’s competition, in particular, this almost made the freestyle a one-trick competition because if a competitor missed the landing on their moves, they got swept out of the water feature.
Jackson was trying to land a McNasty (a 180-degree turn upstream followed by a flip) and had missed it on her first two runs. Not only was the five-time defending champ frustrated, but she was in last place in the finals with a paltry 90 points before her final paddle. By comparison, she had 515 in her first run last year, which won the competition. For good measure, in her victory lap with a title assured, Jackson scored 630 points last spring.
This time, she needed to land the McNasty.
“There were moves than worth more than the total score I needed to win,” Jackson said. “One move, that’s all you needed to win. It was insane coming into the competition, knowing I don’t have to get a lot, but the moves I do get need to count. I did a back-ended McNasty. I had not gotten them on the previous two runs. I had tried them. My confidence was definitely dwindling when it came to the last run.”
But since she’s been winning this even since she was 14, the now-20-year-old nailed it, and added a big loop for some insurance.
Describing the Gore as “brown chocolate” Faux posted 180 points in her second run, when she had beautiful entry cartwheel. After the unplanned head contact with International, she stuck a big flip, dodging a log in the process.
“It just comes down to course skills,” said Faux, who won Thursday’s steep-creek challenge at Homestake Creek on Thursday. “Can you react fast enough to the changing feature? I’m very excited. I’ve got a first at Homestake and second in the freestyle, the core events of these games. It’s just exciting to get on the podium. It’s a proud moment.”
One for each
Urban, who won in 2008 here, was up to the challenge despite difficult scoring conditions. Stephen Wright’s winning tally last year was 1,310 points. Urban won Saturday with 590.
“I kind of had to take a leap of faith and go for my McNasty, which I had no Idea how it would go,” Urban said. “There was a good chance I would flush. It really came through. That was a huge factor in that ride. I kind of got a rhythm going there, which was really hard to do.”
He landed the McNasty and then ripped off left and right space Godzillas for his second Teva crown which is a good thing. He has one for each of his children. Aaron Urban, 1 1/2, can take the 2008 medal, while the next Urban, due in October, gets 2010.
“It’s awesome. I feel so fortunate,” Urban said. “Everyone in finals was worthy of it. It was a really unpredictable finals. I felt like I was fortunate to pull it out.”
Give young Craig a few years and he’ll be right there. The 16-year-old showed he belonged with the best delivering a clutch third run. He ripped off two big loops and a McNasty to vault over Van Kalmthout. More impressively, he showed a lot strength for his still-developing body, being able to push up the creek.
“I’m surprised and stoked,” Craig said. “Honestly, it was pretty chaotic and insane. There was so much wood and different factors that were coming down into each ride. You pretty much had to go out and huck it and hope it went well.”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or email@example.com.