Gorge Games brings back best in extreme sports

Posted: Thursday, July 18, 2002

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- Hundreds of hardcore athletes from all over the country are back in Hood River for the sixth annual Gorge Games, which has returned strong after losing its title sponsor last year.

After Subaru pulled out, Ford Motor Co. rode in, ensuring that one of the biggest festivals of ''extreme'' sports in the country keeps going.

This year's competition begins Saturday and continues through July 21. A total of $200,000 in prize money is at stake.

More than 1,500 athletes from nine disciplines are expected to compete on rock, water and bikes. Events include rock climbing, adventure racing -- a grueling combination of several sports -- kayaking, 24-hour mountain bike racing, kiteboarding, outrigger canoeing, windsurfing and trail running. About 40,000 people are expected to watch the games.

''It's like spring break in Hood River,'' said wind surfer Sean Aiken. ''This is an ideal spot for all types of +outdoor+ sports. For windsurfing, this is the biggest competition in the continental United States.''

The first Gorge Games events on Saturday -- windsurfing and kiteboarding -- will take advantage of the Columbia Gorge's famously high winds.

Hood River is a favorite spot for windsurfers because winds hold steady between 30 and mph at this time of year. The location is unique in the world because winds run opposite to the current of the river. The opposing natural forces allow windsurfers to launch off waves high into the air and perform acrobatic stunts.

''There is no other place like the Gorge,'' said Aiken, who splits time living in Maui and Hood River. Aiken has routinely placed in the finals in the Gorge Games windsurfing competitions and said this year he has his work cut out for him.

''There is a whole new breed of freestyle sailors out there now,'' Aiken said.

Steep Gorge walls make trail running and mountain biking physically as well as mentally challenging for athletes at the Games.

Toby Blanck, event director said the 10K and half-marathon trail-running course, located six miles outside of Hood River, is new and filled with awe-inspiring views.

''It is mostly single track, with about 1,000 feet gain and loss on the trail,'' Blanck said. ''When you start the race, you're running toward Mount Hood. When you're coming back, you're facing Mount Adams. It's stunning.''

Blanck said the most challenging part of the race appears halfway into the 10K. There, a steep 100 meters hasn't been named yet because it's never been run.

''I imagine it will be called something like the ladder, or the wall,'' Blanck said. ''At the top of that, you get your first view of Mount Adams. It will make you forget about what you just went through ... maybe.''

The 24-hour mountain biking course, 10 miles of mostly single track located in the Hood River mountains, will be demanding, interesting and filled with spectacular views as well.

''Gary Fisher, the grandfather of mountain biking, said this was the second-best 24-hour mountain biking course he had ever been on,'' Blanck said. ''The first was in the Dolomites.''

Friday through Sunday, world-class rock climbers will scale four climbing boulders specially crafted for competition at the river's edge.

Tori Allen, a 14-year-old girl from Indianapolis, will compete in the Games for the third year. She is the youngest person in the world to complete a 5.13a route without previously seeing it, and she set a world record as the youngest woman to summit El Capitan, in Yosemite, Calif.

''For an average person, it is impossibly hard to do a 5.13,'' said Scott Woolums, director of Adventures International, a trekking and climbing expedition company in Hood River. ''You have to train for years and years or be extremely gifted, like Tori.''

Allen said she is looking forward to this weekend.

''I hope this year will be like last year,'' Allen said. ''I like it when the crowd gets into it. I'm a crowd pleaser.''

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