Every area seems to have some sort of an event that can help define said area.
My area is no different.
Our biggest attraction is the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown and, of course, the annual Induction Ceremony which draws somewhere between 10,000-20,000 people, depending on who is being inducted. In 2007, when Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn were enshrined, more than 75,000 crammed into the tiny village.
One a more local front, Oneonta holds the Pit Run each October. It’s a well-attended race that is run in memory of an off-duty state trooper who was killed in the line of duty when he attempted to stop a robbery at a local grocery store.
But one of the most intriguing and longest-running events in our area is the General Clinton Canoe Regatta, a 70-mile one-day flatwater race that runs the Susquehanna River from Cooperstown to Bainbridge. And though the professional classes are among the ones many people come to watch, there are a lot of amateur classes and other races throughout the weekend of shorter distances. It’s several days of paddling and more paddling.
The Main Event — the 70-mile race — is the longest, single-day flatwater race in the world. This area is one that is good for paddling with many solid rivers and a lot of good lakes and ponds, so the Clinton Regatta is a crowning focal point of that sport around here.
This was the 50th year the race has been held.
When I worked for the local daily, I used to cover the event. I was one of the only ones who enjoyed covering it as there were many different personalities from around the world (mainly the U.S. and Canada) who participate. Alas, in the years that I covered the event, I never had the chance to follow the regatta for most of the day because it would have meant a work day of at least 12 hours or more.
Then there’s Serge Corbin.
Corbin is the Babe Ruth of paddling. He’s won pretty much everything in the sport and he has owned the Clinton. He raced in 28 Clinton Regatta’s and never lost — a perfect 28-0.
I had the chance to cover him twice — in 2004 and 2005. The first year I covered the event, it was Corbin’s 20th consecutive victory on the Susquehanna.
That year, Corbin and partner Jeff Kolka beat Andy Triebold and Steve Lajoie. Some interesting comments came from the second-place team.
You know there’s the opportunity to beat them. But it’s (Serge’s) race. The odds are against you, but maybe some day.
There’s a few ways to see it. Since he’s been winning every single race, at least you are the best of everyone else. I’m not disappointed. You always want to win, but I’m happy with the result.
The 2005 race was something else. It featured a sprint to the finish, with Corbin and Kolka winning by two seconds over Triebold and Matt Rimer. The story garnered me an honorable mention award from the Associated Press Sports Editor’s Association for game stories.
Kolka’s comments after the event made it sound like the dominance could continue beyond 2005:
Everybody talks about Serge, that he might be slipping or something like that. People have been saying that for about 10 years, so let me ask you, where’s he at? He’s still on top, he’s still the best, and nobody’s knocked him off yet — and it might be a while yet before they actually do. It’s remarkable.
But that race was it for Corbin at the Clinton.
He battled injuries, had some surgeries and didn’t paddle in the Clinton. Over that course of time, Triebold became the man on the Susquehanna. He won the event twice with Matt Rimer and then four straight with Lajoie.
As each year passed, Corbin’s name came up, but he never returned. It seemed like his unbeaten record at this event — one of the North American Triple Crown — would last. After all, Corbin wasn’t a young pup anymore and as he got into his mid-50s, there was no reason to believe he’d be back to test that record.
This year was the 50th running of the event. The festivities included the first Hall of Fame Class, which included Corbin and his brother as part of the inaugural group.
With Corbin being in the area as it was, could it possibly happen…?
In early May, the announcement came — Corbin would return to the race that he dominated along with 30-something partner Steve Corlew. The 55-year-old Corbin wasn’t coming just to paddle, however. He was coming to win and he relayed those feelings to local media.
But could he do it?
Triebold and Lajoie were back and seeking another championship.
This would be something fun to watch. I hadn’t witnessed a Regatta since 2010, when Triebold and Lajoie beat Rimer and Shane Lynch by more than 17 minutes.
The battle line was set — young vs. old. Could Corbin regain his glory and keep his undefeated streak? Or could Triebold and Lajoie be the team to finally say they beat Corbin on the Susquehanna.
The idea of seeing one of the other was too much for me to pass up. So, the day was spent following the paddlers. From Milford (we didn’t get up to Cooperstown for the 8 a.m. start) to Bainbridge, we made many stops. And the first time we saw Triebold and Lajoie, they had a five- or six-minute lead on Corbin and Corlew.
It didn’t look good.
It seems Corbin broke a paddle early in the race, and that made a mild mark, he told the local radio station that covers the event each year. Triebold and Lajoie were like machines on this hot and sometimes humid Memorial Day, paddling quick as they could and separating themselves from the rest of the pro boats.
In the end, the streak ended.
The “kids” left a lasting mark on this race by winning the 50th year of the race. And they did so by beating Corbin and Corlew — who finished second — by nearly 12 minutes.
Still, the sport’s Babe Ruth returned to his version of Yankee Stadium.
Following the race, Corbin seemed to be all smiles. He spoke with media. He shook hands with fans. He was home. Will he be back? Who knows. But with the streak no longer there, why not? Maybe he can be the person to find a way to dethrone Triebold. It would seem to be fitting for Corbin to be the one to do it, if it’s going to happen.
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