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Citing threats, backer bows out of games

By CHRISTIAN KNIGHT

News staff writer

April 19

One by one the event organizers straggled onto White Salmon's Jewett Street sidewalk in front of a vacant office building where Columbia Gorge Summer Games director Keith Liggett had been waiting for them.

And one by one, Liggett told them Monday, the games weren't going to happen. John Gotts, the man who had sparked the idea with a promise of $50,000 in cash prizes a month ago, was abandoning the entire concept.

No more meetings. No more sandwiches. No more money.

But why? they asked solemnly.

“Threats,” Liggett replied. “John (Gotts) was physically threatened last week. He called me on Wednesday and he was freaked. He was truly freaked.”

Who? Who would do such a thing?

Liggett shook his head.

Last Wednesday, Gotts had called several people, including the Hood River News, claiming someone had physically threatened him through a phone call. He did not call the police.

“One call told me I should watch my back,” he said later. “That if I think I can steal the games away, I should watch my back. I couldn't believe I had just been threatened. Physically threatened. They'd (the calls) go all day long. All day long.”

At the height of it, Gotts said he was getting a call every half-hour, nearly all with their caller identification blocked.

Gotts said he made his decision then to abandon the games.

But he'd keep the White Salmon office on Jewett so that if the event organizers decided to pursue it, they'd have a common meeting area. And he made a cryptic promise.

“If they want to knock on my door later, treat me like every other person on the block, maybe I'll donate, maybe I won't, Gotts said. If I do, it'll be anonymous. Nobody will know. That's if I decide to donate.”

The event organizers filed into the rental-white walls and unlit ceiling of the office building Gotts had rented weeks earlier. They set up lawn chairs in a semi-circle when four of the total seven event organizers had gathered there a quorum.

They talked about what to do next.

Liggett said he had been trying to figure out a way to make the games work in the absence of Gotts and his money since Gotts first called him about the threats.

He called the GOHO board, looking for financial support. He pleaded to businesses in White Salmon, Stevenson, Hood River.

But he's had no luck.

“Unless somebody comes to me with a huge chunk of change to go forward, it's done,” he said.

He's figured it'll cost at least $30,000 to $40,000 for the bare minimum.

Before he can pay for the $1,000-permit for the windsurfing event at the Hatchery, for example, he'll first have to find $5,000 to $6,000 for insurance. That's just one event.

“I can't understand why Hood River can't get it together when Cascade Locks and Stevenson put together sustainable, nationally-ranked events that started as part of Gorge Games,” Liggett said.

The event organizers have already invested too much to hear their efforts won't amount to anything.

To prevent that, Shane Gibson and Kathleen O'Neill, owners of Wicked Adventure Racing, announced they have decided to pursue their multi-sport, team event race on July 16 at Beacon Rock independently. They have a Web site: www.WickedAR.com.

Emma Pfister, event organizer for the mountain biking event, had been working on her respective event since March. She had planned on searching for a competition spot in the Gorge last Sunday with two Mountain View employees. But she found out on Saturday the games might never materialize.

“I heard we had no more sponsorship for the event,” she said. “No award or monthly salary.”

But, she says, they're still going to put together an event. It might attract only a handful of local riders. It won't offer any prize money. And the entry fees could be steep.

But they're going to pursue it, she says.

Gail Zaccai, kiteboarding event organizer, is sitting in a lawnchair next to the only window in the office. A blind is covering it.

Maybe, she says, we can still have a kiteboarding event too. Potential sponsors have been calling her, asking how they can help. Maybe she can put it together.

By the end of the meeting, those five event organizers had decided to pursue a series of events for the July weekend of the 16-17.

We're going to do a very informal games where every event is responsible for its own permits, Liggett said later. We're going to put up a Web site (www.WickedAR.com) and we're going to list what's going to happen in the Gorge.

The idea is to build it for next year. Always next year.

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