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June 23, 2008
By Sue Putnam
For the first time in its history, the University of Nevada, Reno took first place at the American Society of Civil Engineers' (ASCE) 21st annual National Concrete Canoe Competition June 21 in Montreal. The team’s canoe, Argentum, topped a wide field of canoes from 21 other teams, ending the University of Wisconsin-Madison's five-year winning streak.
“It’s just so hard to contain yourself,” said Robert Coomes, team paddler and president of the University’s ASCE student chapter. “We knew we’d done well, but as they did the reverse count of the top five teams at the awards dinner, we were just holding our breath until they announced second place and it still wasn’t Nevada.”
The event was held in Montreal's Olympic Basin, the site of the 1976 Summer Games. And despite heavy rain during the first two days of the competition, the team found perfect conditions on the water Saturday for the races. The University of California-Berkeley team placed second to Nevada, and Wisconsin was sixth.
Each year the society invites thousands of engineering students from around the world to design, build, and paddle canoes made from concrete. The student-built boats are judged in four categories: overall appearance, technical design paper, oral presentation and paddling. The top three teams at the national competition win $5,000, $2,500 and $1,500 scholarships for first, second and third place, respectively.
“I was incredibly blessed to be in Montreal to see it happen,” said David Sanders, Nevada civil and environmental engineering professor and the team’s adviser. “Our students were absolutely fantastic, and their sportsmanship as great ambassadors for the University was unbelievable. They (scored) high in all categories and this is a huge win, not just for the College of Engineering, but for the entire University.”
Argentum – which is Latin for silver – had zero deductions out of 100 in the design category, placed third in the oral presentations, and for the first time in Nevada history, placed above fifth in all of the races. Races include the women’s and men’s endurance, sprint and a co-ed race.
When the competition finally ended Saturday, Coomes said most of the nearly 40 team members took to the water for a swim, whether they wanted to or not.
“I think we threw in the design team and the presentation team,” he said, “and then we exchanged boats with some of the other schools so we could all see what they felt like in the water. Florida’s boat was very similar to ours, and Wisconsin’s was wicked fast — we just couldn’t steer it around the turns.”
Sanders and the team are thrilled that many undergraduates stepped forward this year to join the crew, because it takes a lot of time to design and build the boat. It also took 48 hours and 12 minutes to drive the canoe the 2,800 miles from Reno to Montreal last week. To celebrate the unprecedented win, the team will do a little sightseeing on the way back.
“We saw Niagara Falls last night and took a lot of pictures,” Coomes said. “We plan to see a little of Chicago and St. Louis, too, on the way back, just to celebrate and be grateful for what this win means. But we’re already thinking about how we can improve for the competition next year.”
The 2008 ASCE National Concrete Canoe Competition teams, in order of final rank, are: