St. Onge Takes 3rd Footstock Open Title
Crandon, Wisconsin – Apparently retirement didn’t sit well with the world’s greatest three-event barefooter of all time. After announcing his retirement from the sport after last year’s World Championship, Florida’s Keith St. Onge decided Footstock would be the one and only tournament he would compete in. His decision was a good one, as the past Footstock champ notched his third National Endurance Open Title after knocking off favorite, Paul Stokes of Madison.
Saturday, despite almost perfect weather, the mile and a half figure eight on Peshtigo was mercilessly rough. With no wind to move the boat rollers and three towboats running at all times, Saturday didn’t see a single figure eight until the 187th run. Most coming in the quarterfinals and finals of the National Senior Division Championship. In all, only 6 pairs pulled off figure eights, with the longest run of the day coming between past champs, Marc Donahue (Indiana) and Jon DeBelak (Wisconsin) at 2-3/4 eights in the 3rd place contest. But the real drama came in the championship between perennial Senior champ, Pete Fleck (Florida) and Wayne Kind (Canada). After completing almost two eights, a tired King succumbed to the last set of boat rollers, making Pete Fleck the Senior National Champ for a record 7th time.
Sunday was a different story altogether. After rain delayed the event for more than an hour, the long runs came in bunches.
Keith St. Onge (Florida), fresh off his Silver Overall finish at World’s ,came out strong, as did Canada’s Wayne King, Wisconsin’s Ian Stapleton and Jon DeBelak-all pulling off multiple figure eight runs. But possibly the tournament’s biggest surprise was the gutsy showing of former US Team barefooter, Paul Stokes. After a 10-year hiatus from the event, Stokes powered his way to third place, while pulling off some of the biggest runs of the day, including taking down former National Open Champ, Jon DeBelak.
But in the end, like last year’s Open Championship, the final runs came down to Florida’s Keith St. Onge and Pete Fleck. With an earlier loss to Fleck, St Onge had to win twice to take the championship. The first run was an epic 2-3/4 eight battle that saw Fleck lose his grip. But after a short break, Fleck could not be denied and in the brutally rough water and after 2-2/3’s figure eights, it was St. Onge losing his grip and the handle, giving Fleck his record 10th Open National Endurance Championship.
“I gave it everything I had,” said a tired but elated Fleck, “As he pulled himself into the back of the boat. “I didn’t think I would make it through another set of rollers. ”
It was Fleck’s first Open championship in more than 3 years, as he has battled back and foot problems, including suffering a burn hole in heal from barefooting. But neither the burning pain in his feet or his exhausted forearms could take away from the taste of his tenth Open title. A feat that will likely never be matched.
“Pete Fleck is and will go down as the greatest endurance barefooter in the history of the sport,” said legendary Footstock announcer, Dave Mueller. “He just doesn’t like to lose.”
140 barefooters competed in the grueling, two-day championship. And over 320 runs were pulled. Over $,7000 in prize money was handed out to the winners.
On the women’s side of the Championship, 12-yeard old Sophia Miljevic beat both past champion Liana Richardson and last year’s runner-up Cayla Fritz (Wisconsin). The Junior from Rhinelander was the darling of the tournament as she also beat two men in the Open and ZJunior divisions
In the Junior’s Division, Wisconsin’s Cale Ducane won his second straight Junior Championship, knocking off Dominic Smercheck
And in the Master’s Division, Bob Mahnke (Wisconsin), Joe Smith (Illinois) Mark Wallseverd and Dave Hopkins (Michigan) battled for two days, with Mahnke taking home the Master’s Championship again.