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2004 Animal Upper Gauley Race Report

McEwan Fastest at Animal Upper Gauley Race

By Pat Hanna, The Register-Herald

November 5, 2004 -- Summersville, WV

You fly from California to Washington, D.C., on Saturday. You spend six hours in a car traveling from suburban Washington to southern West Virginia on Sunday. You then race on 9 miles of challenging whitewater Monday before flying back to California on Tuesday. Quite a series of trips, but well worth it for Andrew McEwan.

For the seventh time in eight years Monday, the 2003 national wildwater kayaking champion claimed the title of the fastest boat in the 12th annual Animal Upper Gauley Race.

The 24-year-old McEwan, originally from Germantown, Md., but now training in Auburn, Calif., near Sacramento, defeated current national champion Geoff Calhoun of Bethesda, Md., and 2002 national champ and defending Upper Gauley titlist Chris Hipgrave of Bryson City, N.C.

McEwan finished with a time of 45 minutes, 6 seconds. Calhoun was second (46:31) and Hipgrave third (46:47).

"I went off really hard trying to catch Chris (who started a minute ahead)," McEwan said. "I got to within five or six boat lengths about 12 minutes in, and I started feeling really tired. I finally passed him, but it was hard to put any distance on him until he eddied out near the end."

It was a sweet return to the Gauley for McEwan, who moved to California two years ago to train in flatwater sprint racing with hopes of making the 2004 U.S. Olympic team. He finished ninth in the U.S. Olympic trials; the top four went to Athens, Greece.

McEwan says he plans to go back to wildwater racing. "I missed the Gauley last year," he said. "It was pretty rough. I was going through withdrawal. It's the same river, but I was sort of nervous all over again. I definitely missed it last year."

Calhoun was hoping to add the Upper Gauley title to his impressive 2004 season that saw him earlier win the national championship, the Canadian Nationals and the U.S. Team Trials in April on the Top Gauley in Richwood. But it was not to be.

"I exhausted myself pretty early trying to keep up with Andrew's splits," Calhoun, who went off third in the one-minute interval start, said. "It was a pretty painful race for me. My lines were good and I had no really bad screw-ups. "I realized near the end of the race I was about even with Chris, and I pushed myself really hard to the finish and it paid off. "I'm disappointed I was not able to keep up with Andrew. Long distances are something I have to work on. I was pleased with my effort. I realized early on I was not going to be able to keep up with Andrew, but I kept pushing anyway."

Hipgrave said he was "pretty happy" with his run. "I thought I had a good race and it was a lot of fun," he said. "My lines were OK for the most part. Andrew caught up with me fairly quickly, then he backed off and I stayed with him until I eddied out at Iron Ring. That was my only real mishap. That probably cost me 20 or 25 seconds. I don't feel disappointed at all. I couldn't have gone much harder."

The race drew about 100 competitors. Other first-place finishers were Mike Moore (men's slalom), Robin Betz (women's slalom), Jay Ditty (C-1 slalom), Chad Foreman (men's playboat), Andria Balgovin (women's playboat), Milt Aitken (open canoe), Nolan Whitesell and Sudi Lehnart (men's tandem open canoe), Corrine Martin and Liz Garland (women's tandem open canoe), Clear Creek (six-person rafts), Eileen O'Neill and Tim Spangler (shredder), and Fleur Kaiser (duckie).

A total cash purse of $2,200 was distributed to 1st place finishers in each qualifying categories. For more race results and images from the event, go to The Gauley Race for 2005 is slated for September 26th. Celebrate the Gauley!