Florida’s St. Onge overcomes rough water and Pete Fleck to win second National Figure Eight Barefoot Open Title in Crandon.
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CONTACT: Gary Mueller, 414-899-6118 (cell)
Crandon, Wisconsin – “I’m coming up to compete. Don’t tell anyone,” was the text message Footstock organizer Bucky Daily received from the country’s top professional barefooter, Keith St. Onge just 36 hours before the start of Footstock – the National Figure Eight Barefoot Championships. With a previously scheduled clinic having cancelled, St. Onge decided to make the last second 250-mile trek from Chicago to Crandon, Wisconsin to compete in the country’s biggest endurance barefoot championship. 48 hours later on Sunday afternoon on the shores of Peshtigo Lake, with his Open Champion trophy held high, St. Onge did not regret his decision.
The surprise appearance of St. Onge (Florida) was only one of the many plot twists in the two-day championship, often referred to as “America’s Craziest Barefoot Tournament. “ The first coming on Saturday as last year’s Open Champion, Jon DeBelak (Wisconsin) beat 9-time Open Champ, Pete Fleck (Florida) twice in a row to take the National Senior Championship in two grueling back-to-back runs in less than ideal conditions.
The second plot twist came early Sunday morning as training partners Marc Donahue and Jon DeBelak faced off against one another in calm water on the first run of the day. Predicting more than four eights before leaving the dock, DeBelak caught a toe at the end of the first eight sending him into the consolation bracket early, and leaving him facing the task of having to work twice as hard to repeat as champion.
But the real storyline, and a familiar one for Footstock, was the brutal water conditions. With typically dozens of multiple figure eights completed in a day, Saturday saw only 6 and Sunday only 10 completed figure eights. The longest being 2-3/4 eights by Jon DeBelak and Marc Donahue on Saturday.
The rough water opened the door for the Midwestern favorites, like Jacob Weber, Greg Fatla, Marc Donahue, Kelly Wieringa, and Eric Devries to shine. Thriving in brutal water conditions, they finished in the Top 8 in the Open division. Not a surprise was the continued emergence of 16-year old, US Team barefooter, Brody Meskers (Wisconsin), who after winning his second straight Junior National Championship at Footstock added a fourth place finish in Open-losing to his mentor, St. Onge.
But it was the final four runs that set the stage for one of Footstock’s most dramatic finishes. After beating Fleck in a grueling semi-final run, St. Onge sat on and rested while Fleck had the daunting task of knocking off his arch nemesis, Jon DeBelak. After completing the second longest run of Sunday, 2-2/3 eights, DeBelak fell. Opening the door for a rematch of the 2011 championship between the two.
After a rough first figure eight, St. Onge and Fleck battled through grueling water conditions until Fleck finally succumbed on the difficult cross-roller section coming back towards shore. Leaving St. Onge, the last man standing at 2017 Footstock.
For a guy who wasn’t even supposed to compete, the smile on his face, as he came back to the dock said it all. And as the crowd stood, and the exhausted, but elated St. Onge, pumped both fists in the air, he knew he had done something few before him had ever done. Beat Pete Fleck in an Open Championship run.
“This is the toughest tournament in all of barefooting,” explained St. Onge to local reporters. “It feels great to win Footstock again, and especially knowing it came against the best endurance footer of all time, Pete Fleck. It is all the sweeter.”
As for Fleck, after suffering a debilitating back injury (ruptured L5 disk) that sidelined him all of 2016, he considered two second place finishes in the National Championship a victory. and a huge step in the road back for him.
“I had a goal to get back physically to where I was before the injury,” explained Fleck. “Now I’m ready to come back next year I and go for Number 10.”
In all, 118 barefooters competed in the grueling, two-day championship title-sponsored this year by the WBC, Mole Lake Casino and Forest County Potawatomi. And almost $7,000 was handed out to the winners.
On the women’s side, Liana Richardson, came back to beat, Haley Gibbon twice to take the Women’s National Figure Eight Chamionship, her second such achievement.
And in one of the most entertaining championships of the day, in extremely rough water, 63 year-old Bob Mahnke outlasted 67-year old Paul Elsen twice in a row, covering almost a full eight, to win the Master’s National Championship.
2017 National Figure Eight Barefoot Championships Official Results
1st Keith St. Onge (Florida)
2nd Pete Fleck (Florida)
3rd Jon DeBelak (Wisconsin)
4th Brody Meskers (Wisconsin)
5th Jacob Weber (Wisconsin)
6th Marc Donahue (Indiana)
7th Eric DeVries (Michigan)
8th Greg Fatla (Wisconsin)
9th Kelly Wieringa (Michigan)
10th Brad Pylman (Michigan)
11th Luke Bruckner (Wisconsin)
12thh Chad Mietz (Wisconsin)
13thh Axle Erlandson (Minnesota)
14th Nate Birchler (Wisconsin)
15th Mark Mahan (Wisconsin)
16th Travis Lepak (Wisconsin)
1st Liana Richardson (Wisconsin)
2nd Haley Gibbon (Wisconsin)
3nd Angela Clothier (Wisconsin)
1st Jon DeBelak (Wisconsin)
2nd Pete Fleck (Florida)
3rd Marc Donahue (Indiana)
1st Bob Mahnke (Wisconsin)
2nd Paul Elsen (Wisconsin)
3rd Mark Wallesverd (Wisconsin)
1st Brody Meskers (Wisconsin)
2nd Andrew Puissant (Wisconsin)
3rd Ian Burke (Missouri)
Best of the Worst and Worst
Paul Elsen (Wisconsin)
1st Greg Fatla and Jacob Weber
2nd Keith St. Onge
3rd Trevor Marvin