Still Kickin' It

Guettich, Shunny team up for 47th combined worlds

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It's rare to find an experience Bruce Guettich and Peter Shunny have not shared in the sport of footbag.

But as the 26th annual International Footbag Players' Association World Footbag Championships approach, the two can't hide their excitement about this year's destination: Helsinki, Finland.

Neither has been to the port city before, and as the years pass -- this is Guettich's 25th year and Shunny's 22nd at the world championships -- each competition is a moment to remember, they said.

Both admit retirement is drawing near. Each has been the No. 1 footbag player in the world at one point in his career, but the men who run World Footbag in Steamboat Springs enter this year's championships as underdogs.

This year, Guettich and Shunny will be teammates in footbag net doubles. Last year, Guettich and Shunny's world championships ended when Guettich tore his left Achilles tendon in competition.

"It was within the first two minutes in the round of 16 in singles," Guettich said. "I immediately hit the ground. I knew what had happened."

Shunny was there.

"I withdrew and brought him home," Shunny said.

The airplane flight home from Montreal was a miserable experience for both. Shunny wheeled Guettich around because he couldn't walk or put pressure on his left foot.

After surgery, Guettich was on crutches for eight weeks and was told he might be able to ski in the spring.

"My first day skiing was the week before Christmas," Guettich said.

Back on his feet months earlier than projected, Guettich's attention shifted toward the 2005 World Championships. Shunny decided to compete again, as well.

"I've learned a lot of things from Bruce," Shunny said.

"Peter and I have been training since May," Guettich said. "It has been a slower road to the kind of shape we or I like to be in."

Guettich is sore when he is done practicing, but his surgeon has told Guettich he can compete.

The upcoming world championships, which run from Saturday to July 30, will be the pair's first chance to test the injured Achilles tendon in a tournament format. But Helsinki is at sea level, and the weather will be cooler than it has been in Steamboat.

Guettich serves on the committee that selects the host city for each world championships. He said Helsinki's bid was impressive.

"A lot of the organizers who do worlds do it on a volunteer basis," he said. "They put the bid in (based on a number of things). It was nice to see the community rally around a unique and up-and-coming sport."

Footbag is commonly -- and mistakenly -- referred to as hacky sack, which is a brand name for a footbag. In footbag net, the players serve, pass and spike with their feet, much like the sport of volleyball.

Twenty countries are ex----pected to send a contingent to Finland, and the man favored to win the footbag net singles, Canadian Emmanuel Bouchard, recently was defeated by American Kenny Shults in a regional competition. Bouchard had not been beaten in six years.

People can follow the world championships online at www.footbag.org.

-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail mmawdsley@steamboatpilot.com

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