Athletes Hope to Beat the Heat and Win Great Outdoor Games

RENO, Nev. - It was 96 scorching degrees Wednesday afternoon when New Zealander Sheree Taylor checked in for her athlete credential on the eve of the fourth annual ESPN Great Outdoor Games.

The defending champion of the Women's Timber Endurance lumberjack event, Taylor noticed the weather here is a lot different than what she and the other outdoor athletes faced in Lake Placid, N.Y., site of the first three Great Outdoor Games. The temperatures are expected to be in the mid- to high-90s all week in the Reno-Tahoe area, adding more challenges for the competitors, both human and canine.

"At Lake Placid, it was cooler, but the air was really heavy," said Taylor, a New Zealander who, at 49, is one of the older athletes in the four-day competition that starts Thursday and runs through Sunday. "It's hot, but at least the air is dry. I don't think the heat will be a problem. Everyone is going to have to deal with it."

More than 200 human athletes and 48 dogs are here at "America's Adventure Place" to determine who is the best outdoorsman or -woman in fields that include head-to-head competition in timber events, target shooting, archery, sporting dogs, fly fishing and bass fishing. ESPN has constructed a unique outdoor park that includes an interactive sponsor village, 65-foot spar poles for speed climbing and a giant pond for log rolling and leaping dogs in the popular Big Air event.

The scenic Truckee River is being used for the fly-fishing competition. Late spring rains raised the river level, and the anglers are expected to find good fishing there.

Perhaps the coziest athletes at the 25-acre site for the Games at Rancho San Rafael Park will be the dogs. They're set to compete in Agility contests, where dogs will be tested for their ability to obey their handlers and negotiate an obstacle course, and the Big Air event, where dogs jump between 17- and 27 feet from a running start off a pier.

The dogs' kennel area Tuesday was one of the cooler spots in the compound, and the furry ones will be watched closely by on-site veterinarians and, of course, their owners. Everything will be done to ensure that the dogs stay healthy and survive the brutal heat.

Local businesses are expected to flourish today with the start of the Games. One 7-Eleven, a few blocks from Rancho San Rafael Park, had brisk business Wednesday afternoon.

"We don't know what to expect, but our business already has been up," said Nancy Morelli, owner of the store. "But we've ordered a lot more water, and drinks like Gatorade and stuff because we saw it pick up yesterday and continue today."

Top outdoor athletes from around the world compete for entry into the ESPN Great Outdoor Games, held in Reno-Tahoe on July 10-13. The ultimate championship of outdoor sports features one-of-a-kind, head-to-head competition in timber and target events, sporting dogs, and fishing. While entertaining large crowds on site, the ESPN Great Outdoor Games also draws a worldwide television audience airing on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC Sports beginning July 19.

For more information, contact ESPN Outdoors Communications at (775) 787-4714.