Vail Teva Games: Sutton, Faux take down Homestake
HOMESTAKE CREEK – The Teva Mountain Games have gone Down Under.
Australian and New Zealand kayakers continued their dominance of the steep creek championship on Homestake Creek Thursday with New Zealand’s Sam Sutton and Australia’s Tanya Faux topping the podium.
Sutton edged out Andrew Holcombe (Asheville, North Carolina) and Tao Berman (White Salmon, Washington) to become the second straight Kiwi to win the event. Defending champion Mike Dawson was seventh.
Faux made it four Aussie wins in five years for the women, holding off newcomer Martina Wegman of the Netherlands and fellow Australian Nikki Kelley, the steep-creek champ in 2005, 2007 and 2009.
“We’ve rented a house, so we’re really sorry to the owner that we have 20 Kiwis in it,” Sutton joked after getting out of Homestake in front of a mob of fans. “We’ll look after it and then we’ll cruise down to the bar and support the local economy.”
“It’s always good to come first,” Faux said. “It’s better than second.’
Faux should know. This was her first steep-creek win after finishing second in three of the last five years.
One comforting aspect that spectators should know is that Thursday’s kayakers, by and large, aren’t ashamed to admit a little fear when it comes to Homestake.
“This Colorado (water) scares me,” Sutton said. “I’ve been in water all around the world and I’ve never seen rocks that just want to eat your face off. You’re just paddling and those rocks are saying, ‘I’ll knock your teeth out.’ I’m pretty stoked every time I make it down.”
Sutton said he actually dialed it back Thursday after going full throttle in last year’s Mountain Games. And being smooth equaled speed for the Kiwi. He logged the fastest times in both of trips down the creek.
Holcombe was on Sutton’s tail, just 0.59 seconds behind after his first run. Holcombe said that he had just one miscue on his first ride and corrected it on his second run.
“Everyone wants to win, but I’m pretty psyched,” Holcombe said. “It’s a big race. There’s a lot of really fast people here. I race in races that have more people than this, but I don’t race in many races that don’t have as deep of a field.”
Berman knows that well. Having won here in 2005, 2007 and 2008, he wanted the top spot. He was fifth after the first heat, roughly three-and-a-half seconds behind Sutton. He let it all hang out the second time down.
“My second run was quite clean other than the last drop (Leap of Faith),” Berman said. “The problem was that I was trying to make up a three-and-half second deficit, which is pretty tough to do. I put it all on the line. I knew I had to. To make up three seconds you can’t hold anything back.”
Taking a Leap
Leap of Faith was definitely an issue for the women’s field as well.
Faux scorched the competition, holding an eight-second lead, going into the finals. Her approach to Homestake was to avoid over-correcting when the inevitable mistakes happen.
That said, with a nice cushion, which she ended adding to, Leap of Faith nearly spelled the end for her on her second run.
“I was definitely off line. I was definitely reacting there,” Faux said. “I almost spun out a little too much to my left, I put in a big, massive back-sweep on my right and knew I just had to hold on. I actually came out faster out of that drop than my first round which is quite interesting.”
On the start sheet, Wegman’s home town was listed as Almere, N.H. But that isn’t New Hampshire. That’s North Holland, just a substitute “state” she put on her entry form. And she had never seen rapids like these until this week, especially Leap of Faith.
“I had only one practice run and I didn’t do the last jump because I guess I was too scared,” she said. “When I was looking at it I was quite scared. I didn’t want to do the last jump. Finally, I did it in the race and it was sweet. It was easier than I thought.”
At around 9,000 feet, some were feeling the altitude. Others were not. Faux said she felt like she had only 50 percent of her normal lung capacity. On the other side of the spectrum, Wegman felt pretty good. “Everybody’s talking about it, but it’s just when I climb the hill,” Wegman said after hiking from the finish to the frontage road with her kayak over her back. … Defending men’s champion Dawson was in the hunt for a repeat until he smacked one of his paddles hard on Leap of Faith. … Gypsum’s Brad Ludden finished eighth. Other locals included Ross Herr of Eagle in 34th and Jace Crane (Vail) in 40th. Avon’s Eli Loper was a DNF…. On the women’s side, Ruth Gordon, much more accustomed to freestyle kayaking, made the finals. … Speaking of freestyle, Emily Jackson, the five-time defending champion in the event, finished 12th in the steep creek.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.