By Eugene Buchanan
If it came down to a King of the River crown at the inaugural GoPro Mountain Games, held June 6-9 in Vail, Colo., it might well come down to an international toss-up between New Zealand's Mike Dawson and Canada’s Nick Troutman. For the women, it'd likely go to The Netherlands' Martina Wegman.
While 2012 slalom Olympian Dawson won the speed events—including the coveted Bud Light Steep Creek Championships on Homestake Creek and the Downriver Sprint event on Gore Creek—Troutman had his best showing ever, taking third in the Homestake race, second in downriver and first in freestyle. It shows that the former world freestyle champion is becoming an all-around force right when he's about to become a father.
"I've been trying to train at both freestyle and speed events this year and have definitely been getting more time in the creekboat," Troutman said after besting brother-in-law Dane Jackson with a score of 1300 points to 1200 in the Bud Light Lime Pro Kayak Freestyle finals presented by Eddie Bauer. Taking third in the freestyle was Adam Chappell of Stittsville, Ontario.
As for his freestyle finish, he said his third ride was the charm. "I went before Dane, so he knew my score and what he had to do," said Troutman. "He had two great rides, but then missed a couple of moves. If he had gotten them he would have beaten me. It basically came down to just a one-trick difference."
Troutman adds that this year's flows were perfect for the event. "Two years ago it was too low, last year it was too high, and this year it all came together perfectly," he said.
No one was happier than new title sponsor GoPro, which used Mother Nature's cooperation to help pull off one of the best Mountain Games yet. "It went really well for us," said communications coordinator Katie Kilbride, clearly pleased with the energy the event's paddling component brought to the Games. "It's a perfect fit for us."
In the women's freestyle, showing that a new generation is ready for the world freestyle stage, it was 12-year-old Sage Donnelly who won the competition with a score of 410. Reigning Mountain Games multi-time freestyle champion Emily Jackson (Troutman's wife) competed at eight months pregnant, and finished in sixth. Following Donnelly was Haley Mills in second and Rowan Stewart in third.
"Sage was doing moves no one else could," says Jackson, whose pregnancy admittedly was a big factor in turning the title over to a new generation of freestyle kayaker. "She was able to stay in the hole better and really knows how to compete with the scoring system by doing different moves."
In the Bud Light Lime Down River Sprint, Dawson and Wegman, winners of the Steep Creek Championships, and winners of the sprint race last year, both had repeat victories with winning times of 18:01 and 18:42 minutes, respectively. Troutman finished 26 seconds back at 18:27, followed by Jeremy Rodgers at 18:42, Eric Jackson at 18:59 and Paul St. Ruth at 19:03. For the women, Courtney Kerin took second at 19:18, followed by Natalia Borecka in third at 19:31, Emily Jackson at 19:37 and Ruth Ebens in fifth at 20:16. A familiar name in paddling also took the Maui Jim SUP Surf Sprint title, with Dan Gavere of Hood River, Ore., beating out 40 other paddlers to claim the men's win. Haley Mills of Elizabethtown, Ky., won the women's race.
In all, the environmentally friendly adventure sporting event drew nearly 3,000 outdoor athletes and 45,000 spectators to the mountains and rivers of Vail to compete in eight sports and 24 disciplines for over $100,000 in prize money.