Steamboat Pilot & Today sports reporter and photographer Joel Reichenberger can be reached at 871-4253 or jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs Steamboat Springs' Sarah Hamilton's run to the finals of the freestyle portion of last year's Paddling Life Pro Kayaking Invitational was, to say the least, unexpected.
It left several of her competitors fuming and led the way for a change in the way the event is scored.
If Hamilton has her way, the field of this year's event again will be left scratching its collective head.
Hamilton is a 27-year-old river rat who fell in love with the sport of kayaking on the Yampa River.
Her participation last year was as much a gift as it was a prize earned through her competitiveness.
Once in the field - boating next to professionals who travel the world for kayaking - she seemed right at home. She finished third in the freestyle event and was fourth overall.
Hamilton showed Steamboat Springs that one good day was far from a fluke.
Hamilton won the women's division of Saturday's Yampa River Festival kayak rodeo.
That title is largely a joke, though, and she said as much as she slid into her bright orange boat before the competition.
"I'd better win," she said to a group of children splashing in the water. "I'm the only girl out there today."
Barring some sort of Titanic-esque sinking, she was the winner.
"Maybe," she continued, "I'll beat some of the boys."
She did more than win the faux women's title or beat a few of the most inexperienced boys, though. She darn near beat them all. She ended up third, but not before putting a scare even into her boyfriend, all-around kayak rodeo champ Dan Piano.
Hanging in the Charlie's Hole, spinning and flipping, she matched her opponents move for move.
Hamilton's been strong enough in the water that she was a sure thing to return to the field of Monday's pro invitational.
"I don't know if it's the token local girl invite, but whatever," she said. "I don't care. I'll take it."
She may be primed for an even better day than she had last year. It was the run down Fish Creek where she stubbed her toe last year. That dropped her off the podium.
She said a year of practice weaving between the boulders has been a huge help.
I'm not much for predicting things when it comes to kayaking. All but the most obvious of tricks look to me like a wet dog flopping around in a bathtub. Still, I will venture a few guesses about Monday's competition.
It's impossible to pick against Tanya Faux in the women's competition. The Australian dominator has won the event in each of the three previous years it's been contested.
It's foolish to pick against Stephen Wright, who has won the men's title twice.
And it's dumb to pick against Sarah Hamilton. She's the local girl who's not supposed to have a chance, but she's shown again and again that she's perfectly at home against the toughest competition.