Berman, Kelly conquer Homestake in Steep Creek |

Berman, Kelly conquer Homestake in Steep Creek

eagle county correspondent
Vail Daily/Kristin Anderson

HOMESTAKE ” Humans need water to live.

And kayakers live for water. Lots of it.

At Thursday’s Teva Mountain Games Dagger Steep Creek Championship at Homestake Creek, boaters got to enjoy higher-than-normal water levels across a stretch of Class V rapids.

Tao Berman navigated the course faster than anyone on the first run, then had a solid second run to pick up the win.

Eagle County local Brad Ludden, who was sitting in second after his first ascent, had the fastest second run, but came up about two seconds short of Berman.

Andrew Holcombe moved up one spot on his second pass to finish in third.

For most of the race, the creek was running at just over 100 cubic feet per second, as Vail Resorts released water for the race.

Last year, the creek ran at less than 50 cfs for the race.

“Having Vail release it like that means the world to us athletes,” Ludden said.

“Water is such a precious commodity anywhere in the world now, that anytime you get it, that’s something to be pretty excited about.”

“The levels were perfect,” Berman said.

“(Teva) has done a great job at creating the perfect venue for kayakers to come from all over the world and enjoy the course.”

When the levels were lower last year, competitors were more likely to get caught up on rocks. With the higher flow, the boaters had more leeway in areas.

“It was a bit more of a cushion,” said Kiwi Nikki Kelly, who won the women’s race ” her second victory in as many days.

“You could really grab water and go places and jump off stuff.”

Give and take

As all kayakers know, nature can be a variable force.

When one of the female finalists, Valerie Bertrand, rolled and injured herself, she had to be transported across the creek by the rescue team.

During the long course delay, the men’s kayakers saw the water levels start to drop.

“It dropped about an inch in 10 minutes,” said Pat Keller.

Instead of running the finals in reverse order, the organizers decided to send the fastest boaters from the first run down at the start.

The top four racers, separated by less than two seconds, had to get in their boats and onto the launch ramp sooner than expected.

“On race day, I’m always ready for the unexpected,” Berman said.

“I’m eating right to try and keep my energy level where it needs to be to race. I would have liked to have had a extra couple minutes to walk down and see how the course had changed because the water levels had dropped, but, whatever, I more or less knew what to expect.”

Ludden came down right after Berman, taking a time of 1 minute, 46.9 seconds ” 0.1 seconds better than Berman.

But Berman’s first run of 1:42.8 gave him enough of a cushion.

Ludden, the only Coloradan in the top 10, was glad to perform well in front of the home crowd.

“It’s more important to do in front of your friends than anywhere else, or else they don’t believe you,” Ludden said.

“This is the event I’ve been focusing on for the (Teva) Games. I’m pretty proud of myself and how I paddled. The (second-place) finish is secondary.”

On the women’s side, Kelly distanced herself from her friend Tanya Faux after the first run, earning a four-and-a-half second lead.

On her second run, Kelly came in at 1:52.7, while Faux got caught up on rocks and was disqualified.

“I was happy because I cleared everything,” Kelly said.

“But you just don’t know if you’ve won or not. I don’t get excited until I get that check in my hand.”

Kelly picked up a $2,000 check later on, adding to her $1,000 from winning Wednesday’s kayak paddlecross.

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