Potomac turns field into power strokers

Rise changes conditions

Giddens, Jacobi, Mann dominate competition

Whitewater Championships

September 20, 2004|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

DICKERSON - Organizers of the 2004 U.S. Whitewater Slalom National Championships didn't plan on one last-minute competitor with an agenda of his own.

The watery remnants of Hurricane Ivan yesterday filled the quarter-mile cement racing chute that leads to the Potomac River with millions of gallons of runoff that turned the churning whitewater to a latte-brown shake.

But despite conditions that drastically changed overnight from Saturday's test runs, the nation's top paddlers persevered by switching from finesse to power strokes. And several of those with experience at last month's Olympics proved why they were selected to represent their country.

Kayaker Rebecca Giddens, the Athens silver medalist, easily won her competition with two error-free runs that earned her a score of 137.51. Finishing second was Canadian Jennifer Gratto, with a score of 147.44. Anna Jorgensen of Takoma Park took third with a two-run total of 150.84.

Giddens said based on radio weather reports, she had already begun modifying her strategy for attacking the course before she arrived.

"Paddlers are always adjusting," said the San Diego resident, smiling. "Mentally preparing for the flooding made it easier once I was here."

Paddlers said, given the weather forecasts upstream from the western Montgomery County course, they expected some flooding yesterday. But the Potomac rose 12 feet overnight, which startled even the most veteran racers and officials when they arrived early yesterday.

"When we left at 6 p.m. [Saturday] the course was perfect," said race chairman Richard Perlmutter. "Our predictions were based on rain that hadn't fallen yet. We didn't expect it would rise this quickly."

The conditions forced race officials to shorten the course from the customary 18 gates to 13. Paddlers on the upper section used the force of the water to gain speed, but on the lower segment, they needed self-generated power to punch through the flatter, slower water.

Sentimental favorite Joe Jacobi, the Bethesda native who won the 1992 Olympic gold medal in two-man canoe, proved his versatility by winning the one-man canoe and finishing second in the doubles event with a fill-in paddling partner. Jacobi's Athens teammate, Matt Taylor, was home with his wife and new son in Atlanta.

In the single canoe, Jacobi bested Olympian Scott Parsons of Bethesda, who finished sixth in Athens in single kayak, 140.36 to 142.22. Benn Fraker of Peachtree City, Ga., took third with a score of 143.34.

In doubles, Jacobi and his coach, Yves Narduzzi, put down two flawless runs to score 145.80, second to the 140.62 earned by Jeff Larimer and Scott McCleskey. Local paddlers Devin and James McEwan took third with a 164.30.

In a race that may have provided a sneak peek at the 2008 Olympic team, kayaker Scott Mann of Bryson City, N.C., beat San Diego's Eric Giddens and Olympian Brett Heyl of Bethesda. Mann took a two-second lead in the first run and then protected the top spot with a safe, clean run for a combined total of 121.27. Giddens finished at 125.91, and Heyl scored a 126.28.

Mann, a political science student at Western Carolina University, said he worried as he watched the flood waters recede slightly between races that he wouldn't successfully adjust to the changes.

"I wasn't conservative, but I was careful," said Mann. "The shorter course helped. It takes a lot of strength to paddle in these conditions."

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