Breck and Vail rafters compete for US at worlds | SummitDaily.com

Breck and Vail rafters compete for US at worlds

John LaConte
jlaconte@vaildaily.com

Parana River, BRAZIL — Forty countries will have teams representing them at the World Rafting Championships in the Itaipu Canal this week. For many of the competitors, it will be an entirely new experience.

The Itaipu Canal has never hosted a World Rafting Championships. It will be only the second time in history a World Rafting Championships has used a four-man format. But for the Americans, the World Championships in Brazil will be an especially different experience as the team itself is all new.

In the past, the U.S. was represented by the Eagle County-based team "Behind the 8 Ball," which won the national championship many years in a row. That team has now absorbed into the Ark Shark team; Vail Valley resident John Mark Seelig was one of the few who competed with the old team captain, Chris "Mongo" Reeder, who retired last year.

"I think we're incredibly strong, the inexperience of not being together for very long on the same team will be the only hard thing to work through," Seelig said.

Seelig is joined by Breckenridge residents Matt Norfleet and John Anicito, along with Jeremiah Peck, of Boulder, who was called in after Eagle County rafter Todd Toledo bowed out due to a family concern. Vail Valley resident Andrew Bishop is traveling with as the alternate.

The team qualified for worlds after winning nationals on the Salmon River in California.

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"This team isn't new to the sport, but we're new to being national champions," Seelig said.

SPECTACULAR DESTINATION

The Itaipu Canal receives its water via the world's largest hydroelectric power plant, the Itaipu Dam. The man-made canal connects the dam's reservoir to the Parana river downstream from the power plant and was designed to allow migrating fish to reach reproduction and nursery areas upstream from the power plant during the spawning period and swim back in the fall and winter. With its natural boulders and man-made obstacles, the 430-meter canal mimics a natural river but allows currents to be modulated, making it a perfect competition venue. The first three components of the world championships will take place there Oct. 16-18.

"The first day is a sprint, roughly 2 and-a-half minutes, which seats you for the next event," Seelig said. "And then the next day is a head-to-head; that's when you see boats battling it out with each other, different countries side-by-side."

The tournament format is a round-robin style, where teams advance after beating their competitors. The third day of competition will be a slalom event.

"It will be a lot more technical, moving and dodging under and through gates," Seelig said.

The fourth and final day of competition will be a grueling, hour-long paddle down the natural waters of the Lower Iguazu River, just below the spectacular Iguazu Falls, which is three times wider than Niagara Falls.

"It's an incredible, amazing destination," Seelig said. "So cool to be able to have the opportunity to compete there."

Keep up with the competition by following the event's live steam at http://www.new.lives tream.com/itaipu/CANOAGEM or follow the U.S. team at facebook.com/usraftteam for daily updates from the athletes.