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Ester Erb was the first woman to finish last week’s running of The Bear on Grandfather
Photo by ROB MOORE

Originally published: 2012-07-19 10:14:22
Last modified: 2012-07-19 10:14:22

Athletes battle elements and tough competition to earn victory at Highland Games

Jamie Shell / (

Morse, Erb emerge through fog  for victories in The Bear

Despite less than ideal weather conditions during last weekend’s Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, competitors braved the fog and raindrops to earn top honors in the numerous athletic events that took place throughout the four-day festival.

Athletic competition kicked off Thursday, July 12, with the running of the 18th annual edition of The Bear, the five-mile road race winding from downtown Linville to the Mile-High Swinging Bridge at the top of Grandfather Mountain.

A total of 825 runners participated in this year’s race, and even the top finishers in the race did not exactly know they had reached the finish line due to the heavy fog that blanketed the road course. 

Asheville’s Matt Morse was the first male to cross the finish line, Morse, 24, won the race with a time of 32 minutes, 17 seconds. It was Morse’s first running of the event that boasts an elevation gain of 1,568-feet. Morse’s time did not break the record of 30:34.35 set by Ian Conner of Columbus, Ohio, in 2005. It was 19 seconds faster than Brevard native Alex Goden, who was second.

A student at N.C. State University, Goden finished with a time of 32 minutes, 46 seconds. It was his fifth time that Goden ran the race.

Both Morse and Goden said that the weather, which softened the track and was difficult to deal with, played a role in the race. One runner who was not bothered by the conditions was third-place winner Andrew Vandenberg, completing the course with a time of 32:57. 

Blowing Rock resident Ester Erb defended her 2011 women’s victory with a win. With a 19th place overall finish, Erb crossed the finish line with a time of 37:23.6 seconds. 

Lisa Burnett, 29, of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, finished second in a personal record time of 38:59.6. 

Two-time winner Zika Rae was third among the women finishing with a time of 40:16.5. The women’s record stands at 35:55, set by Beth Fonner in 2002.

Mayes, Battjes earn top honors in Grandfather Mountain Marathon
Many of the top male and female finishers for the Grandfather Mountain Marathon were first-time competitors in this year’s race, held Saturday, July 14. One of the few podium finishers to have won the race before was first-place finisher Glen Mayes, 41, a professor at the University of Kentucky. This is Mayes’ second time winning the Grandfather Mountain Marathon, finishing in a time of 2:54.44.
“There were three or four nasty climbs toward the end of the race,” said Mayes.  “I was cramping pretty bad and just tried to keep my lead.” 

Second overall was Steve Cowie, 35, from Greensboro. Cowie finished the race with a time of 2:55.56. For Cowie, it was his fifth attempt competing in the race.

“I love the bagpipes,” said Cowie. “The crowd and hearing the bagpipes at the end of the race is by far the best part.”

Third place went to Brian Fowler from Dunn. Fowler, 30, finished in a time of 2:58.59.

The men’s record time stands at 2:34:51, set by Michael Harrison in 1994.

Stacie Battjes of Winston-Salem won first place in the women’s division. Battjes, 32, was ecstatic to win her first attempt at the marathon. Battjes’ time was 3:33.26.

The second woman to finish was Erin McKee, 27, of Durham. This was McKee’s first attempt at the Marathon and first marathon in six years. The law student at Wake Forest University trained for the race by running at Bass Lake in Blowing Rock and finished with a time of 3:24.46.

Third place went to Emily Pulsifer, 37, from Swannanoa. Pulsifer, a librarian at Christ School in Arden, was a first-time participant in the Marathon, finishing in a time of 3:39.21.

The female record for the Grandfather Mountain Marathon remains at 3:01:54, set by Patti Shephard in 1997.

A total of 390 runners from 28 states and Canada, lined up for the 45th annual Grandfather Mountain Marathon. Runners began the race at Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone and ran 26.2 miles to the finish line in MacRae Meadows. Runner ages ranged from 17 to 76.

Pockoski earns victory in heavyweight athletics 

Michael Pockoski of Troutman took home the title in heavyweight athletics at Grandfather Mountain Highland Games on Saturday, July 14, in a battle that came down to the wire.

Pockoski and Eric Frasure, last year’s champion, were tied at 12 points apiece heading into the last event, the 56-pound weight toss for height. After an exciting tiebreaker between the two, Pockoski pulled out the win with a 14-13 advantage against the 2011 winner.

“Eric is a great contender,” said Pockoski. “This isn’t the first time it’s come down to the wire and it won’t be the last.”

Pockoski, 34, began his career as a track and field athlete. While training for the Olympics, his coach had him cross training with Scottish field events to better his traditional track and field abilities. 

“When you’re doing track and field, you deal with travel and accommodations just to make two or three throws in one day,” said Pockoski. “In the Highland Games you spend the whole day competing. That’s what I like.”

Harlfinger earns Male Track and Field Athlete of Games, Avery’s Smith duo earn top two places in Female Track and Field Athlete honors

Matt Harlfinger captured the title of Male Track and Field Athlete of the Games for the third year in a row, winning four of the 10 competitions. The 27-year-old Atlanta native and track coach at Western Carolina University won the 100-yard, 220-yard and 440-yard races, as well as the long jump.

The women’s overall champion was 16-year-old Shannon Smith, a rising junior at Avery High School. Smith competes in soccer, volleyball and basketball.  

Smith won the 100-yard, 220-yard and 440-yard races plus the long jump in the women’s division. Smith’s steepest competition was former Female Track and Field Athlete of the Games winner Mary Chesnut Smith. Smith, an Avery County native and rising sophomore at UNC-Wilmington, won the 880-yard dash, as well as the one-mile and two-mile run events.

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