Hudson weaves focus, adaptability into Log Rolling gold
By Sam Eifling
Great Outdoor Games staff
For the first time all day, something gave Darren Hudson pause.
He glanced around for a table. Nothing. He looked down at the beach, but that wasn't happening.
For an instant he seemed to ponder carrying it to the podium, decided against it, and, instead, set it next to a cardboard box on the sand-splattered dock that was serving as a stage after the Men's Log Rolling event.
Hudson calmly walked out to the podium to collect his gold, then turned around, found the apple, judged it to be fine and jammed it back into his mouth so he could shake hands with well-wishers.
"I'm an apple guy," he explained.
It was the same oil-on-water mixture of focus and adaptability that helped Hudson win his first ESPN Great Outdoor Games gold medal.
En route, he defeated Salzman, the returning champion who hadn't lost a match since 1998, and McDonough, the burly Branson, Mo., competitor who holds nine world titles in the sport.
A wiry, nimble roller, Hudson seemed able to quickly turn defense into offense with footwork he called "unique to myself" and a mental game that he spent the last year honing by entering every competition he could along the West Coast.
"The biggest thing, and why I was able to win today, is because I was able to keep my composure through every fall," he said. "Whenever I win or when I lose a match, I completely phase that out, and concentrate on my original game plan, and just pretend I'm the underdog, and stick it to them.
"That was my strategy today. And it's all in your head."
At least some of it is in his blood. When he was a kid, as far back as he can remember, he would roll against his cousins and his uncle, nine-time world champion Phil Scott.
He picked up his "catty" style through his family, who logged on a small but treacherous river in southern Nova Scotia. No stranger to the water to earn money, he dives for sea urchins to be sold as sushi he defeated McDonough in the finals in surely the wettest round of the afternoon.
In the quarterfinals, McDonough had battled Brian Duffy for more than 13 minutes on the 15-inch-diameter log, the largest, because between them they submerged any smaller logs.
True to form, neither Hudson nor McDonough fell off the large log in the finals. So out came the 14-inch log, which appeared to be partially submerged but close enough to the surface to suffice.
Neither competitor took a dry step on the log. McDonough won the first fall, and Hudson replied with two quick points.
McDonough showed an amazing ability to accelerate the log, even submerged, on the fourth point, and Hudson went in with a near-pirouette.
The two exchanged near-falls on the decisive point before McDonough finally fell.
The consolation round held far less drama.
Travis Wells beat Fred Scheer in the first round by not making mistakes. It was not his fault that the determined and frustrated former champion Salzman fell to him in the battle for the bronze medal.
That was Hudson's doing, as he won the first point on a Salzman misstep and re-reversing nicely to drop Salzman in the third. After losing the first point, Salzman hit his head in disgust.
His fury showed through against Wells. After they timed out on the 15-inch log, Salzman dispatched Wells three times in 35 seconds on the 14-inch log to win the bronze, his sixth Great Outdoor Games medal.
"I was there physically. I wasn't there mentally today," Salzman said. "That's really what it was. I can't say that I have too many complaints. That's the first match I've lost in four years."
Perhaps more indicative of his disappointment, Salzman vowed to train harder in the off-season. It was a strategy that had already succeeded for Hudson.
He lost to Duffy in the semifinals last year en route to a bronze medal, and decided to enter every competition he could, to bolster his confidence. He won, too, every match.
Beating Salzman this year, he said, was a huge mental hurdle overcome. Hudson thrives on that mental game as much as anything.
"I'm in it to express my inner desires to be a champion in what I believe is one of the most fierce and competitive sports," he said. "I'm 24, I'm a world-traveler, part-time scuba diver, and lumberjack competitor. It's always on my mind. I always train on and off the log."