ESPN2: U.S. lumberjack on the top of World

  • Editor's note: Catch the re-air of the Stihl Timbersports World Championships from 2-4 p.m. ET Friday, Jan. 6, on ESPN2 television.

    Paul Bunyan has long been regarded as the lumberjack king of the Northwoods.

    Move over, Paul, there's a new king in town, and he's sitting on top of the World … as in World Championships.

    That's because Croghan, N.Y., timber-sports giant Matt Bush capped his legendary career recently by capturing the first world title awarded in the sport.

    Bush did that by besting competitors from 14 nations at the inaugural Stihl Timbersports World Championships held this fall in Virginia Beach, Va. ESPN2 television will re-air the Stihl Timbersports World Championships at 2 p.m. ET this Friday.

    Bush captured the title with first-place finishes in the Springboard, Stock Saw and Hot Saw

    "It was a real good event for me," Bush said. "I'm probably going to give the (Stihl Timbersports) series a skip next year and retire for a while to spend more time with my family since the kids are getting older."

    "But it is nice to go out on the top end," said the father of two.

    Of course, in his storied career, Bush is used to being on the top end of the standings after the sawdust settles.

    That's easy to see when you consider his career record, which includes such accolades as the 1995 Stihl Timbersports Series championship, a 2004 ESPN Great Outdoors Games gold medal in the Hot Saw event and the 2002 Great Outdoors Games gold in the Timber Endurance event.

    All of that is pretty heady stuff for Bush, who doesn't train much, given the demands of family life and running a logging business and sawmill in upstate New York.

    "I don't train (much physically), so when I get to a show, I'm usually a little rusty," Bush said.

    "The guys that do it professionally, they're training all (the time) because that's their job. It's just a hobby to me."

    While Bush rarely puts in much time in terms of physical training, that's not to say he's not continually preparing for his next event.

    "I think about it a lot and do a lot of mental training," Bush said. "I know in my head exactly what I want to do, and I keep going over it on the drive to work, on the drive home and before I go to sleep at night.

    "If my brain knows what to do, the rest of me will follow."

    That certainly was the case during the World Championships.

    After finishing fourth at the Stihl Timbersports Series Championship the day before, Bush got into his lumberjack groove for a world-title run.

    By the time the world competition was over with, the 39-year-old Bush had topped such international competitors as Australia's Dale Ryan, who placed second, Canada's J.P. Mercier (third) and New Zealand's Jason Wynyard (fourth).

    "The day before really helped me to get warmed up for the world championship," Bush said.

    "The key thing in that competition was to keep your head, to keep your cool and get through the day without making any mistakes."

    Bush did just that to win the world title before a raucous crowd that chanted, "USA, USA, USA."

    "He was on from the beginning," said Stihl spokesman Roger Phelps.

    "It was a pro U.S. crowd in an international event with all of the international flags flying. There was a huge crowd, and to see a U.S. guy pull it out, it was just exciting for them."

    His world title could make Bush even more recognizable in the world of timber sports.

    "Thanks to ESPN and Stihl, there's been an unbelievable amount of exposure," Bush said. "It's hard to run into someone on the street who has never seen it on television.

    "Ten years ago, that wasn't the case. But now, when I go places on an airplane, I'll have some people occasionally recognize me and say, 'Aren't you that lumberjack guy?'"

    That recognition still comes as a surprise to Bush, despite all of his sawdust-covered credentials.

    "Sometimes I think these guys need to get a life and get away from the TV," said the humble Bush.

    Such attention doesn't surprise Phelps, who believes that even more fan support will be forthcoming in the future as the sport continues to grow.

    With a heavy slate of 2006 competitions in the United States and Europe, a test event scheduled in Argentina next year, and contests in the collegiate ranks, that seems like a good bet.

    Phelps attributes the growing popularity of timber sports to several reasons, not the least of which is ESPN Outdoors' ongoing coverage of the athletes and the events.

    "We're the ultimate in channel-surfing destinations," Phelps said. "People surfing across ESPN come across us."

    "Once they do, 80 percent of the time, they watch it all the way through."

    Another reason that timber sports continues to grow in popularity is due to the athletes themselves, people Phelps describes as "ordinary guys doing extraordinary things."

    "When you watch these guys, you're aware that there's a huge difference in what they're doing and what you just did in your backyard," Phelps said.

    Additionally, the sport's athletes remain among the most approachable, something that is not lost on fans who attend competitions.

    "Accessibility to pro athletes is becoming rarer and rarer, but one of the things that make this sport so attractive is that you can come out on site and meet these guys," Phelps said.

    Finally, timber sports might be the ultimate gear junkie's paradise with its specialized saws and axes among other pieces of equipment.

    "People watch the hot saw competition and see that a guy basically took half a snowmobile engine and basically attached a chainsaw," Phelps said.

    "That's cool. And any gearhead out there is thinking, 'Gosh, I could do that.' He's looking at that old Kawasaki and thinking, 'Hmmm.'"

    And, who knows, that might be all the impetus it will take to find the next Matt Bush and the heir to the Stihl Timbersports World Championships throne.

  • Catch the re-air of the Stihl Timbersports World Championships from 2-4 p.m. ET Friday, Jan. 6, on ESPN2 television.