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Splinter and all, Bartow win's 2nd straight Speed Climbing
By Sam Eifling
Great Outdoor Games staff

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — After repeatedly scaling a 65-foot pole and cascading down it fast enough to earn his second straight Speed Climbing gold medal in the ESPN Great Outdoor Games, Brian Bartow was taken aside by a medical staffer with a pair of tweezers.

Brian Bartow & Brian Linville
Brian Bartow and Brian Linville make strides in Saturday's Speed Climbing event.
He sat down, doffed his glove and winced for the operation in his right palm.

Yup, Brian Bartow got a splinter.

"I feel like such a wuss," he said.

He squeezed his palm hard to help the digging. Pretty soon the culprit emerged, a tiny, bloody shard of wood. Bartow took it well. The early reports of wussiness, it turned out, were premature.

His consistent speed up the poles did allow him to remain, well, slightly less daredevil than his competitors, though.

The breakneck speeds it takes to catch a climber of Bartow's caliber can best be achieved going straight down, but the leads he took on the way up turned out to be too formidable Saturday for anyone to unseat him.

Not that they didn't try to catch the tall Oregonian on the way up or down.

Silver medalist Wade Stewart, whose red flattop comes up to Bartow's nose, bemoaned the height difference.

At 6-foot-3, Bartow was the tallest climber in the competition, and besides taking long strides is strong enough to choke up on his rope as he ascends and the pole narrows, making for an exceedingly efficient trip. Bartow's descent is quick but comparatively unspectacular.

After spotting Bartow a body-length lead on the ascent, Stewart went down like WorldCom stock. He could go no faster downward than Isaac Newton dictated, however, and finished in 13.76 seconds, behind Bartow's 13.35.

"He can beat me down any time, so I have to beat him up," Bartow acknowledged.

He can beat me down any time, so I have to beat him up.
Gold medalist Brian Bartow, on opponent Wade Stewart

"I was climbing when I was 3," Stewart said. "I used to jump big jumps even when I was like 5 and 6 years old, coming down the tree. It's just a lot of practice."

Stewart got to the finals by giving in to gravity, turning a virtual tie on the way up into a victory, 14.09 seconds to 15.31, with a cleaner, more breakneck fall.

Brian Linville beat Bryan Schulz for the bronze medal the same way, racing him close on the way up and shredding the pole with plunging steps on the way down and winning 14.13 seconds to 14.49.

"Brian Linville just has a better bail-out," Schulz said after the races. Then he paused for a few seconds, to watch a replay of the final on the huge video screen facing the arena.

There was Bartow, on the left, pulling away on the trip upwards, and there was Stewart, on the right, falling as if out of a burning building, trying to make up time on the trip down and nearly overtaking Bartow.

"It's like these guys," Schulz continued. "Wade's got a faster out than Bryan. But Brian, he's got a better out than I do. It's the out. Obviously I beat (Linville) to the top.

"All these guys, they're doing it precision. It's a total art. It just takes guts, too. I'm assuming these guys have a place where they have a good crash pad to practice that on. All I have so far is a pile of sawdust. And I've got two kids. I'm not going to let them watch me break my leg in training."

Linville knew his out was good enough for a bronze, but he didn't know quite how good. "It all happened so fast," he said, and reserved final judgment until he saw the replay.

As for Bartow, the laid-back, pony-tailed 23-year-old seems to have it totally figured out. He lives with his parents, enjoys music and art, and during competition wears a multicolored bead necklace during he made himself. His two gold medals attest to the strength of his preparation: sprinting practice. Gravity only pulls so hard.

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