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Tree Topping: Hart of gold
By Sam Eifling
Great Outdoor Games staff

Greg Hart, so quick up the pole on the way to the ESPN Great Outdoor Games Tree Topping gold medal, took his time coming down.

He exchanged notes with silver medalist Wade Stewart as they rested atop the 65-foot cedar poles, per custom, then descended in increments to the puffy foam pad below.

Greg Hart
Greg Hart celebrates his win.
The first arms around Hart's neck belonged to his 14-year-old son, Stirling. The elder Hart hung a hand on his son's back while the boy pressed his face into his dad's shoulder and held it there for a solid half-minute. Before Stirling stood, he dabbed his eyes with the front of his T-shirt, then wiped them with the backs of his hands.

Armed with a saw he owned only five days, Greg Hart won his fourth Tree Topping medal and second gold on what he estimates was less training than he's ever had. Mostly, for the last month, he has stayed in shape by running an excavator to clear a logging road in British Columbia.

The tree work he has done has included his son, who has been climbing already gets up a pole well enough to place in junior speed climbing competitions. They hurl abuse at each other. Encourage each other. Go for an ice cream. Return to climb more.

Cheer each other. Greet each other after winning gold medals.

"He's not a very talkative guy, like me, and I think his emotions just got the best of him," Greg Hart said. "He knows over the years how hard I worked, and how I talked about quitting, and how the young guys are coming.

"Like any kid and his father, he kind of wants to be like his dad, he just doesn't want to admit it. It made me feel really good. I didn't know what to expect at the bottom of the tree."

He did, however, decide to make his ascent more predictable. The last two years he's faltered on the tree trying to outrun the fleet Stewart or Bartow. This year, he decided that he could make up enough time on the sawing to go at his own pace up the pole.

"A little slower is better than a slip," Hart said.

Greg Hart & Wade Stewart
Hart and Wade Stewart finish at the top.
In the finals, Stewart indeed beat him up the pole, and Hart even got his saw slightly tangled in his rope once he did reach the top. Last year's gold medalist appeared to be on his way to a repeat.

Then Stewart hit some knots. Three, to be exact. Hart, the stronger sawyer, with a new saw to match the one Stewart won with last year, needed only that advantage, and won handily, 43.566 seconds to 52.642.

"It's really disheartening," Stewart said. "I didn't want to tell the audience too much here, on TV, and sound like a whiner, but that was part of it. I was quite a ways ahead. He's such a strong sawyer I have to be into the wood ahead of him, and I was several strokes ahead.

"You can almost hear it, it's your worst fear. It sounds like your saw is cutting glass. You can hear it scraping, it's not even cutting, that nice zinging sound."

Hart beat eventual bronze medalist Brian Bartow in the semifinals in similar fashion. Bartow won the race up the pole, Hart won the race atop it and finished with the fastest time of the event, 41.910 seconds, almost seven seconds ahead of Bartow.

Bartow rebounded in the very next heat to send Ed Smith to his fourth straight fourth-place finish in the event.

Bartow has been running track lately, sawing only three blocks a day for the past couple of weeks. Still, he said, his endurance is better and he's stronger than last year, when he also placed third.

Smith, a fourth-generation logger, relies on a quick tie-off and piston-like sawing to win races. But he couldn't make up the nine-stroke lead Bartow had by the time Smith set his saw to pine. The result was the closest match of the day, with Bartow ekeing out a victory, 50.400 seconds to 50.871 seconds.

"I had a mistake on my tie-in, one of my spurs popped out," Smith said. "Same thing happened last year, too. So that probably cost me the race right there, that one mistake. That's all it takes."

Bartow was also met at the bottom by family - his father, Steve Bartow, who lost to Hart in the quarterfinals but got to watch his son bring home a medal.

"He sawed his guts out," Steve Bartow said. "He just got out of track, so he hasn't sawed as many blocks as he should have. But when you have youth and a track season under your belt, you can wing it, I guess."

Final Results — Tree Topping

1. Greg Hart, Canada
2. Wade Stewart , Canada
3. Brian Bartow, Grants Pass, Ore.
4. Ed Smith, Eatonville, Wash.
5. Bryan Schulz, Silverdale, Wash.
6. Guy German, Columbus, Neb.
7. Cal Richert, Juneau, Alaska
8. Steve Bartow Grants Pass, Ore.