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Friday, May 2, 2003 - Sunday, May 4, 2003 -- Albright, WV
Cheat River Festival (iPO Event Id#: 5658)
Article by Rick Gusic with photos by Don Parks and Julie Black

[Details] [Coverage]
[Overall Results] [Results by Class]
Pictures: [Set 1] [Set 2] [Set 3] [Set 4] [Set 5] [Set 6] [Set 7]
Past Cheat Festival & Race Coverage: [1999] [2000] [2001] [2002]

Post-race Pic
Now it's festival time!
The 2003 Cheat Canyon Downriver Race would take with it many things this year. Past champions returning to dominate yet again, as well as the race now emerging as one of the biggest kayak races in the United States. THE showcase downriver kayaking race in the country!!!

This year, 79 contestants would all line up in for the unique 'mass start' the race is quickly becoming famous for. Seventy-nine paddlers all crashing, paddling, and jockeying for a strategic position. Then all quickly settling in for what can only be described as a test of endurance and will over the 10 mile canyon. Most racers would be paddling for one and a half to two hours!

The level on race day would be a perfect 2-1/4 feet on the Route 26 bridge gauge, covering nearly all rocks but yet leaving most holes manageable. Unlike last year (at 5') in which boaters swam, broke boats and numerous people did not finish, this year every contestant would cross the finish line.

Race Pic
Gettin' a face full at Big Nasty
Past champions would return to dominate. US National Wildwater team member Steve Kauffman would return to recapture the overall title yet again, claiming his second first place prize in a solid 1:09:47. In what would turn out to be a non-event, he would quickly jump out on second place finisher Rick Gusic (1:13:31), building a one minute lead by Big Nasty into a three plus minute victory.

The Cheat Race also offers sub categories for racing, for those who don't have race boats, allowing everyone to compete in his or her own level of competition. In the 'race boat' category, longtime competitive racer Mike Moore would show up and notch his highest placement ever, coming in at a blistering 1:14:53, knocking off defending 'race boat' category champion, nasty Nate Ober by 21 seconds.

The women's division this year would feature a number of racers. The 2003 overall Cheat champion title would fall to Denise Rabun, who would out-distance second place finisher Lara Voytko by a little over two minutes. Other category winners would include Kristy McMillion in the short boat category and Amy Conger in the open canoe.

Race Pic
Bustin' the waves in a OC
Back to the men, 'Long boat' category winner (boats between the length of 10' and 12'6") would fall to the battlin' Kent Stater, David Knox (1:17:54) who would overtake the grizzled, longtime boating warrior Steve Geissler halfway through and hold him off by only 17 seconds. Maybe next year Steve will find a boat that actually keeps water out - as rumors had it he was still dumping water out of it days later - lol.

In what could only be called a blowout, the 'Short boat' category (boats under 10') was convincingly won by Dave Shannon. Dave would come in at 1:21:06, easily outdistancing his nearest competitors. Other category winners would include C1 champion Neal Fleenor and Open Canoe champion Mike Elsea. Both racers, using only one blade, would beat most of the other kayakers in the race. Neal finishing 20th and Mike finishing 40th. Impressive job to say the least.

Daly Brothers
Tim & Pete Daly team up in the K2
For true excitement though, the Cheat Race offers the unique team race format. This format allows companies and paddling clubs to compete as a team to battle for the pride of their respective organization. After months of some of the nastiest 'smack' talk the Internet has ever seen, longtime bitter rivals, the Keelhaulers and the Kent State Kayaking Club would square off against three other paddling clubs.

Needless to say, the air was thick pre-race time as last year's 1st and 2nd place clubs angrily looked over each other. Boatertalk protagonist Matt Muir was even seen numerous times being restrained from verbally debasing his Kent State rivals. Adding to the tension, the Pittsburgh based Three Rivers Paddling club would gather up 11 kayakers to form three teams of their own. Five paddling clubs forming 8 teams set to duke it out for the United States National Club Racing Championship.

When the splashing settled, it would be the two time defending champion Kent State'ers winning yet again with 52 points (low score wins). The only question remaining after their convincing win is how many years will it take these guys to graduate from that school, as they put a convincing ass-whuppin on the other clubs.

Race Pic
Sprinting for the finish
In somewhat controversial fashion, the Keelhaulers Team One would just inch out the Three River's Paddling Club's third team by only one point, 87 to 88. Almost too close to call as the border rivals may have to settle this again in the future.

Returning to the theme of returning champions, as well as the Kent State'ers did in the club competition, no one could match the dominance in the Corporate Team competition. These are teams where its members all originate from the same company. For the third year in a row, Mountain Streams displayed overwhelming dominance. 14 guides from the company would enter fielding four teams. Its top three teams would all score ahead of the team from Kent State, finishing with 32, 33 and 45 pts. As with past years, the same question remains unanswered, why can't any of the other 8 nearby rafting companies find three guides to compete for the honor of their company? An embarrassing state of affairs for the boaters in the town of Ohiopyle.

This year's overwhelmingly successful race could not have happened without the help of a couple key supporters. One, the friends of the Cheat for helping underwrite the event. Two, Jeff Prycl and his kayak store, 'Rocky Mountain Kayak' ( Jeff donated well over 65 prizes that would be handed out and raffled off to the competitors, as well as helping with the race, running shuttle and hauling boats out. Thanks Jeff for the tremendous effort.

57 boats
How about just one more?
Three, Immersion Research ( for stepping up with a number of prizes and also the race bibs. Thanks Kara and John! Four, safety boater extraordinaire Rich Yester for tirelessly doing the safety work again. Five, Chris Herring for the endless support in helping to organize and run the event. Last, but certainly not least, Mountain Streams for hosting the post race party.

As a side note, every competitor would have free beer at the take out and party. They all would also walk home with a prize this year (everyone did) as well as a t-shirt, and a free Cheat Festival pass ($10 value). Kudos again to Mountain Streams for setting the world record for hauling boats out, getting 57 boats on a single truck - wow.

Hope to see you next year when the race will be shooting for 100 contestants!