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Concrete canoe team takes home national championship

Concrete Canoe team 2003

Concrete Canoe Team 2003 (large image)

For the first time in its history, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Concrete Canoe team has won the national championship.

The concrete canoe team beat out 23 teams in winning the 16th annual National Concrete Canoe Competition in rain-soaked Philadelphia. The three-day competition, which concluded Sunday night, tests student teams on their design and construction skills, academic and oral presentations, racing, durability and aesthetics.

"We were very surprised - pleasantly surprised," said Kurt Thuene, who earned a bachelor's degree in civil and environmental engineering this May and served as co-chairman of the UW-Madison team with fourth-year civil engineering student Jesse Larson.

The team and its 22-foot canoe, dubbed "Chequamegon" (a Wisconsin national forest), finished first at regional competition in Indiana in May. However, it wasn't considered one of the favorites heading into the national competition. Its previous highest finish was a fifth place at last year's competition, hosted by UW-Madison and held on Lake Mendota.

But when the UW-Madison team unpacked its canoe on the grounds of host school Drexel University and sized up the competition, it knew it had a good chance of matching or improving on last year's finish, Thuene said.

Then the team dominated the academic portion of the competition, winning for its strong paper and oral presentation, which provided a huge boost to the team entering the final day of racing, according to Thuene.

"Our academic presentation went fantastic," he said.

The team finished second in the racing portion of the competition, after the race-day site was moved from Philadelphia's Schuykill River. Torrential rains in the days before the races caused strong currents and flooding on the river, and the races were moved to a nearby lake.

Universite Laval, a Canadian school, finished second in the overall competition, followed by the University of California-Berkeley. Perennial concrete canoe power Clemson University, four-time defending national champions, finished fourth.

The win by the UW-Madison Concrete Canoe team comes on the heels of the national championship won earlier this month by the UW-Madison FutureTruck team. Both teams are housed in the university's College of Engineering.

About 30 students worked during the past year on the UW-Madison Concrete Canoe team, with 15 of those making the trip to Philadelphia for the national competition.

While this year's concrete canoe competition was dominated by rainy and poor weather, Thuene said none of the UW-Madison team members seemed to mind.

"We'll take the rain and first place anytime," he said.

The concrete canoe competition is sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers and Master Builders, Inc., a manufacturer of materials used in the concrete industry.