Swims, beat-downs and three live-bait rescues sun it up. Historic high water conditions (a whopping 550 cfs) on Thursday’s Coors Light Steep Creek Championship at the GoPro Games were summed up in two words by the experts monitoring river flows at American Whitewater: “Not Recommended.” But that didn’t stop 49 of the world’s top whitewater paddlers from jumping into their creek boats and taking on the raging torrent thundering through the steep, narrow gorge at water levels never before measured in GoPro Mountain Games history — or any history, for that matter.
Truth be told, the river running at more than twice its peak recorded flow of 243 cubic feet per second on this date in 1985 did stop several paddlers from reaching the finish line of the quarter-mile race. Of the original 44 men and five women registered to start the race, only 28 went the distance to complete the entire race. The rest either bowed out or required a rescue, including three “live bait” rescue attempts by safety crew members jumping into the frigid rapids tethered to a rope in order to retrieve racers dislodged from their kayaks.
For first-time race champion Alec Voorhees of Meridian, Idaho, however, the raging flow of about 550 cfs at race time came as a welcome sight. In his second year competing at Homestake, Voorhees took advantage of the higher water level to notch the winning time of 1 minute, 29.14 seconds.
“I was loving the course,” said Voorhees, 19, who camped out at the race start all week to get as many practice runs as possible. “With more water than usual, it felt a lot like my home river at the North Fork of the Payette (in Idaho). The higher water level is more my style, so I was really confident going into the race.”
Women’s Coors Light Steep Creek champion Nouria Newman of Tignes, France, seemed to gain appreciation for the high water level as the race progressed. As the only woman in the field to make use of the second qualifying run, Newman’s times steadily progressed from 2:01.90 down to the winning time of 1:38.20.
Second place finisher Adriene Levknecht of Greenville, SC, actually posted the fastest women’s time of the day during qualifying at 1:38.03, but couldn’t repeat the feat during her finals lap. Likewise, Dane Jackson of Walling, TN, smoked the course with the day’s fastest time of 1:28.41 in qualifying. The raucous high-water conditions drove him off-line in the finals, though, and he settled for fifth place. Isaac Levinson of White Salmon, WA, and Nich Troutman of Walling, TN, rounded out the top three.
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