Florida’s Fleck wins record 6th National Figure Eight Championship

CONTACT: Gary Mueller, 414-899-6118 (cell)

Florida’s Fleck wins record 6th National Figure Eight Championship

Rough water abounds. 11-year old is youngest Top 16 finisher ever.

Crandon, Wisconsin – Pete Fleck knew he had a target on his back, in his quest for a record sixth Footstock Open National Championship, when his first run on Saturday morning to start the tournament went for two and a half miles against an unseeded skier.

And it didn’t get any easier from there for the U.S. World Barefoot Team skier from Orlando Florida, as he, along with 125 other barefooters from 10 states and Canada took to the waters of Peshtigo Lake in Crandon for Footstock, the country’s largest endurance barefoot championship. The two-day event pits barefooters head to head at the same time over a figure eight course to see who can barefoot the farthest. Most of whom had trained all year to beat one man. Pete Fleck.

Despite being forced to ski multiple eights early in the competition, no one was successful on Saturday at taking out the defending champ, as rough water turned the usually calm Peshtigo into a barefooters’ nightmare. Although past Footstock champs like Marc Donohue, and Ron Blouw, along with veteran skiers Eric DeVries, Luke Bruckner, James and Jacob Weber, Chad Mietz and Greg Fatla handled the rough conditions with few problems, many skiers struggled to make even half an eight on the mile and a half course.

So after 7 hours and over 175 runs, the first day ended much the same way it started, with Pete Fleck completing two figure eights to defeat 2010 champ, Marc Donohue of Indiana for the National Senior Division Championship. A rematch of their dramatic 2011 championship

The conditions Sunday, however, started out the total opposite. After delaying the start by over an hour due to fog, Peshtigo was a sheet of glass calm water and Pete Fleck again was challenged on the very first run of the day by Nick Ruchti. The junior division start put a big scare into the champ, taking him for two full figure eights. But the calm conditions were short-lived. By noon, steady winds started to whip out of the north creating havoc all over the course, turning the famed Peshtigo Figure Eight, into a mess.

“The waves definitely cut down on the number of eights skiers made,” described Tournament Director, Jacob Weber. “There were basically no places on the course where you could relax. The whole straight away you just got pummeled.”

And although Fleck and local favorite Greg Fatla (fresh off his National Men’s barefoot slalom championship in Texas) continued to plow through the field as the only two undefeated skiers, the story of the day was the performance of two up and coming junior skiers. 11-year old Ethan Schulda who finished 9th and 15-year old Nick Ruchti who cranked out eight after eight all day in difficult conditions against the world’s best endurance footers.

“Nick Ruchti is going to win the Open Championship by his 18th birthday,” predicted long-time Footstock Announcer, Dave Mueller. “He has been skiing here since he was 9. He is already a veteran and he doesn’t weigh 100 lbs with his clothes on.”

The other story was the amazing performance of frequent Top 20 finisher Chad Mietz of Michigan. He took out seeded skier after seeded skier all Sunday, turning out multiple eights over and over until working his way into the Open Championship run against Pete Fleck. But, after being forced to ski over and over to get to the championship, including the longest run of the day, a semi-final run against Marc Donahue that went 2-1/2 eights in absolutely brutal conditions, in the end Mietz didn’t have enough gas in the tank to catch the well-rested Fleck, who took home his record sixth Open National Figure Eight Barefoot Championship in Crandon.
Fleck also took home $2,400 for his Open and Senior championships.

The hometown skiers again made an impressive showing amongst the national field, with Greg Fatla finishing third, Jacob Weber finishing 13th and James Weber finishing 16th.

Three other division championships were also decided on Sunday. In the Master’s Division (over 55), Canadian barefooter, Wayne King of Manitoba came out of nowhere to upset defending Master’s Champ Bob “the Mule” Mahnke by beating him twice. After a brutally rough eight that almost took King down several times, Mahnke caught a toe in the cross rollers coming back. Then in the final run-off, Mahnke did something he has never done in a major competition. He missed his step-off, giving King the title of National Masters Champion. Dave Hopkins of Michigan took third and Dan Cardinal of Wisconsin was fourth.

In the Junior Division, Pierce Pluemmer, Isaac Aukee and Nick Ruchti battled it out, with Pierce Pluemmer winning his third and last Junior title. In the championship Pluemmer and Aukee both battled through extremely rough water, until Aukee caught the crossrollers coming back through the middle of the course and fell ahead of Pluemmer.

On the women’s side, Liana Sikora was dominant all weekend, beating newcomer and local favorite Victoria Wienser to take the Women’s National crown. Third went to Haley Gibbon and fourth went to Joanne OConnor, the oldest female skier to ever compete at Footstock, at 63 years young.

Best of the Worst went to Richard Legois who beat out Jay Schaefer for the less than coveted title. Nick Ruchti won the costume contest.

In all, over $7,000 in prize money was given away.