Keith St. Onge wasn’t even supposed to be there. But the Thursday before Footstock, he decided to make a last second appearance, travelling from Chicago with Brent Payne of Footing.com to make a run at the Open Championship he hadn’t won since 2011. 48 hours later, on Sunday afternoon on the shores of Peshtigo Lake, with his Open Champion trophy held high, St. Onge definitely was not regretting his decision.
The surprise appearance of St. Onge (Florida) was only one of the many plot twists in the entertaining two-day championship, often referred to as “America’s Craziest Barefoot Tournament.” The first came on Saturday, as 2016 Open Champion, Jon DeBelak (Wisconsin) beat 9-time Open Champ, Pete Fleck (Florida) twice in a row to take the National Senior Championship in two grueling back-to-back runs in less than ideal conditions on the punishing mile and a half Peshtigo Lake figure eight course.
The second plot twist came early Sunday morning as training partners Marc Donahue and Jon DeBelak faced off against one another in calm water on the first run of the day. Predicting more than four eights before leaving the dock, DeBelak caught a toe at the end of the first eight sending him into the consolation bracket early, and leaving him facing the task of having to work twice as hard to repeat as champion.
But the real storyline, and a familiar one for Footstock, was the brutal water conditions. With typically dozens of multiple figure eights completed in a day, Saturday saw only 6 eights and Sunday only 10 completed figure eights. The longest being 2-3/4 eights by Jon DeBelak and Marc Donahue on
Of course, the rough water opened the door for the Midwestern favorites, like Jacob Weber, Greg Fatla, Marc Donahue, Kelly Wieringa, and Eric Devries to shine. Thriving in brutal water conditions, they finished in the Top 8 in the Open division. 2017 also marked the continued emergence of 16-year old, US Team barefooter, Brody Meskers (Wisconsin), who after winning his second straight Junior National Championship at Footstock, added a fourth place finish in Open-losing to his mentor and eventual champ, St. Onge.
But it was the final four runs that set the stage for one of Footstock’s most dramatic finishes. After beating Fleck in a grueling semi-final run, St. Onge sat on the shore and rested while Fleck had the daunting task of knocking off his arch nemesis, Jon DeBelak. After completing the second longest run of Sunday, 2-2/3 eights, DeBelak caught a toe, opening the door for a rematch of the 2011 championship between Fleck and St. Onge
After a rough first figure eight, where both barefooters almost went down, St. Onge and Fleck battled through grueling water conditions until Fleck finally succumbed on the difficult cross-roller section coming back towards shore. Leaving St. Onge, the last man standing at 2017 Footstock.
For a guy who wasn’t even supposed to compete, the smile on his face, as he came back to the dock said it all. And as the crowd stood, and the exhausted, but elated St. Onge, ppumped both fists in the air, he knew he had done something few before him had ever done. Beat Pete Fleck in an Open Championship run.
“This is the toughest tournament in all of barefooting,” explained St. Onge to local reporters. “It feels great to win Footstock again, and especially knowing it came against the best endurance footer of all time, Pete Fleck. It is all the sweeter.”
As for Fleck, after suffering a debilitating back injury (ruptured L5 disk) that sidelined him all of 2016, he considered two second place finishes in the National Championship a victory in and of itself, and a huge step in the road back for him.
“I had a goal to get back physically to where I was before the injury,” explained Fleck. “Now I’m ready to come back next year I and go for Number 10.”
In all, 118 bare footers competed in the grueling, two-day championship title-sponsored this year by the WBC, Mole Lake Casino and Forest County Potawatomi. And almost $7,000 was handed out to the winners.
On the women’s side, Liana Richardson, came back to beat, Haley Gibbon twice to take the Women’s National Figure Eight Chamionship, her second such achievement. While Brody Meskers battled a gritty Andrew Puissant in his first Footstock appearance to take the Junior Championship for the second year in a row.
And in one of the most entertaining championships of the day, in extremely rough water, 60 year-old Bob Mahnke outlasted 67-year old Paul Elsen twice in a row, covering almost a full eight, to win the Master’s National Championship.
Greg Fatla and Jacob Weber took home first prize in the popular costume contest, barefooting as Dumb and Dumber, while Keith St. Onge took second.
2017 National Figure Eight Barefoot Championships Official Results
|1st||Keith St. Onge (Florida)|
|2nd||Pete Fleck (Florida)|
|3rd||Jon DeBelak (Wisconsin)|
|4th||Brody Meskers (Wisconsin)|
|5th||Jacob Weber (Wisconsin)|
|6th||Marc Donahue (Indiana)|
|7th||Eric DeVries (Michigan)|
|8th||Greg Fatla (Wisconsin)|
|9th||9th Kelly Wieringa (Michigan)|
|10th||Brad Pylman (Michigan)|
|11th||Luke Bruckner (Wisconsin)|
|12th||Chad Mietz (Wisconsin)|
|13th||Axle Erlandson (Minnesota)|
|14th||Nate Birchler (Wisconsin)|
|15th||Mark Mahan (Wisconsin)|
|16th||Travis Lepak (Wisconsin)|
|1st||1st Liana Richardson (Wisconsin)|
|2nd||2nd Haley Gibbon (Wisconsin)|
|3rd||3nd Angela Clothier (Wisconsin)|
|1st||Jon DeBelak (Wisconsin)|
|2nd||Pete Fleck (Florida)|
|3rd||Marc Donahue (Indiana)|
|1st||Bob Mahnke (Wisconsin)|
|2nd||Paul Elsen (Wisconsin)|
|3rd||Mark Wallesverd (Wisconsin)|
|1st||Brody Meskers (Wisconsin)|
|2nd||Andrew Puissant (Wisconsin)|
|3rd||Ian Burke (Missouri)|
Best of the Worst
Paul Elsen (Wisconsin)
|1st||Greg Fatla and Jacob Weber|
|2nd||Keith St. Onge|