The final curtain came down on the 2014 Dusi Canoe Marathon amidst a frenzy of celebrations after Andy Birkett and Sbonelo Zondi were the first to the finish line at Blue Lagoon in Durban in front of thousands of supporters, friends and family with Dusi Queen Abbey Ulansky claiming an unprecedented ninth title with partner Robyn Kime in the women’s race.
With nearly nine minutes in the bag overnight, many expected Birkett and Zondi to back off slightly on the third and final stage and play it safe however the impressive pair instead hammered the final nail into the coffin early in the day and then pushed themselves to a personal record time over the treacherous Burma Road portage before experiencing the thrill of crossing the finish line in front of Blue Lagoon’s lined banks.
“The whole journey has been amazing! I’m super chuffed – especially with our discipline over this last year – and it’s a really special feeling to have won!” said an elated Birkett. “It almost feels like this is the first Dusi I’ve ever won because of the whole change in start procedure here on day three and the finish is a really amazing experience!”
“At last! This is a dream come true for me! I’m so very, very happy! I can’ event express how happy I am today!” added a beaming Zondi.
The unforgiving heat of day one and two continued into the third and final stage however, as predicted ahead of the race by many, the pair relied on their remarkable strength and character as they took on the tough Burma Road portage.
“We went up and over Burma even quicker than we did in our time trial two weeks ago,” said EuroSteel’s Birkett.
“Sbonelo timed it for us but when we put in at the bottom and he said 25 minutes and 20 seconds I thought I hadn’t heard him correctly!
Triple Canoe Marathon World Champ Hank McGregor of Kayak Centre/Team Jeep and his surfski star partner Jasper Mocké put in a valiant effort throughout the three days however they were simply unable to match Birkett and Zondi.
“We gave it our all. We put everything we had into these past three days.. We were just beaten by two very good athletes,” said McGregor afterwards.
Mocké, who finished fifth with Craig Turton in 2012 in his only other Dusi attempt, was ecstatic with his podium finish and glad to have been a part of the iconic event.
“There isn’t another race in the country like the Dusi in terms of hype,” said Mocké. “It is awesome to have finished on the podium and I’ve loved being a part of things again this year.”
With the limelight firmly on Birkett and Zondi, a special effort from pre-race title hopefuls Kime and Mbanjwa on both days two and three saw them overcome their disasterous Commercial Road Weir incident on day one to fight their way back from seventeenth after stage one to fifth after stage two and finally claimed a extraordinary fourth position after Saturday’s third and final stage.
As Mbanjwa’s terrible Dusi luck continues, the entire paddling fraternity will be quietly hoping the tides will turn for him shortly, particularly after his and Kime’s monumental effort of immense character and determination.
Ulansky clinched a record ninth career victory on Saturday when she and her partner, fast emerging Dusi Princess Robyn Kime, held off a valiant effort from Abby Adie and Anna Adamová to clinch a hard-fought victory in the women’s race.
Kime and Ulansky started the day with just ninety seconds in the bank and knew they were always going to be in for a tough final stage if they were to claim a third consecutive title as a partnership.
A brave effort on the Burma Road portage in the midday heat and a strong finish saw them narrowly edge out a flying Adie and Adamová by just a single minute after 119km of racing.
“We are over the moon to make it three in a row! Robs and I have paddled together for a while and formed a great partnership and this year was more challenging for us as number one we had stronger competition and number two we have had other commitments, so we weren’t as strong as we wanted to be but we had great fun and really worked hard,” said Ulansky.
“The win really is a cherry on the top of a fantastic trip back to South Africa. We worked hard for this win, which makes it even more special, and a great compliment to visiting friends and family in South Africa,” she added.
Ulansky subsequently announced her retirement from competitive racing at the Dusi while Kime will be out of paddling action in South Africa for the foreseeable future as she embarks on a sailing and mountain climbing adventure to and around South America.
“I’ve just finished my masters two weeks ago which has made the build-up to this year’s race quite challenging,” said Kime. “Now that the Dusi is done and my studies are done I’m free and my boyfriend and I are going travelling.
“We are joining an expedition to South America where we sailing from Cape Town to Brazil andthen we’ll go climb some mountains in Bolivia and Peru and I’m very excited about that!” she added.
For Adie it was a bitter-sweet result as she and Adamová came so close to victory however eventually had to settled for her sixth consecutive second place.
“We tried so hard and it’s a little disappointing to have come so close and not been able to win it but we worked really hard and in the end it wasn’t quite enough,” said Adie.