PHOTOS BY SCOTT MARTIN / STORY BY CHARLI KERNS
The 21st annual Green Race came as fast as it went this weekend. Aptly themed "Under the Influence," this year’s flurry of fall activity passed in a blur. And in an event where every rock and millisecond matters, it takes a minute to process all the highlights. Let’s rewind to recount the most epic moments of the 2016 Green Race.
This year was intense before the race even started. A severe drought left the race organizers and Duke Energy scrambling to make the river run. Consistent 5-inch releases most of fall and almost the entire race week made the Green River Narrows’ signature drop, Gorilla, sketchy at best for elite racers, while unrunnable for most mortals. Despite several mishaps from overheating to non-functional turbines the morning of the race, Duke Energy and race organizers managed to pull off a 7-ish-inch release — slightly less sketchy — just in time for the 170-plus racers to begin just after noon Saturday.
Despite the low water, this year's race saw some of the storied event's fastest times and many personal records (including both the men’s and women’s winners). Last year ended in a first-ever tie for first, between French racer Eric Deguil and Tennessee’s Dane Jackson. This year, with sponsorship from Brevard's Oskar Blues Brewery, organizers benefited from a laser timer, naming a clear winner. Deguil (pictured below) clocked a dominating time of 4 minutes 11 seconds, making his sole 2016 title claim official. Pat Keller took second, just one second behind Deguil, with Brad McMillan in third at 4:23 (SEE FULL RESULTS HERE).
"When I heard Pat was second and Jason didn’t say my name, I understood. And I cried.” Deguil said. “I dedicated nine years of my life for that.”
Adriene Levknecht also proved how hard she’s been working for the past nine years. For Levknecht, who won the women’s title with a record-breaking time of 4:35, it wasn’t just about reinforcing her title as Queen of the Green with a record eighth win. Her win, beating six other women racing, also put her in the Men's Longboat top 10.
"I never anticipate beating someone like Tommy [Hilleke] or Andrew Holcombe, but having Tommy start right behind me really lit a fire in me," Levknecht (pictured above) said of Hilleke, a paddling legend with six Green Race victories to his name. Emily Shanblatt took second in 5:31, and Rowan Stuart finished third (5:39) in the Women’s Longboat class. Other class winners included Jordan Poffenberger in both canoe classes, long (4:37) and short OC-1, Jake Trotter in the hand-paddle class (5:26), as well as Deguil doubling down with a win in the men’s short kayak class (4:51).
Hilleke, who bushwhacked through “some of the burliest rhododendrons” to connect the start and finish sensors, also raced in one of Liquidlogic’s latest pet projects: a vacuum- thermoformed Stinger, which provided more rigidity than the typical rotomolded longboats while cutting 7 pounds in weight. The test Stinger proved a clutch performer in the fast times for Hilleke, Keller and organizer John Grace (who tied Levknecht and Holcombe in ninth place), as well as Deguil, who called it a “big key” in his win.
Jackson, last year's co-winner, did not attend this year's race. Fellow pro Rush Sturges did however make an anticipated race debut, though a brutal near 30-second pin at Frankenstein, the course's first Class V rapid, and a power-flip through the notch cost his time – and his hair – dearly. Losing a bet made with Grace meant Sturges had to dye his hair pink during the after-after race party.
"You win some lose some … And today I lost exceptionally hard," Sturges said of his bet with Grace. "John Grace won our 20-second bet by a long shot, and I crashed the hardest I’ve ever crashed in a competition."
"Nonetheless, I had a great time this week, and I’ll be back for redemption," Sturges concluded. So likely will more than 100 others for next year's race, which will be full of surprises and maybe, just maybe given the boat advances and the ante-upping of every year’s race, the biggest surprise of all.
"The question now is: When the sub-4 will fall?” Deguil asked. “Because it is doable … "