The brand new marathon course at Camps Drift in Pietermaritzburg that will host the ICF World Marathon Championships in 2017 passed its first serious test with flying colours at a record-breaking KZN Marathon Championships on the weekend.
A huge turnout of paddlers entered 215 K1 craft and 75 K2 craft for the provincial flatwater marathon champs based at the NCC clubhouse at Camps Drift, using numerous new facilities installed in the build-up to the world title deciders in two years time.
“The event was awesome, absolutely fantastic,” enthused Canoeing South Africa’s Marathon Committee head Brett Austen Smith.
“There has been a resurgence in interest in flatwater racing, both sprints and marathon, since it was confirmed that South Africa will be hosting the marathon worlds in 2017. The turnout at the recent sprint events and SA Schools Sprints reflects this, as does the huge field that entered the marathon champs.”
Austen Smith confirmed that it was the biggest entry ever for a KZN Marathon Champs, and predicted that the field for the SA Marathon Championships at the same venue on 6 and 7 June would be similar.
“There is a realisation that success in marathons hinges on sprint speed, so a sprint base is essential,” said Austen Smith.
The Camps Drift course of a lap of around 3,6 kilometres on the the uMsundusi River at Camps Drift now features a floating pontoon just above the Ernie Pearce Weir to manage the starts, new extended jetties for the portage take-outs and put-ins and water-based Astroturf covering the entire portage.
“The athletes raved about the portages,” said Austen Smith. “We didn’t see a single athlete slip at any stage and there was more than enough room at the takeouts and put-ins on the jetties, even when seven boats arrived together in a bunch.”
Austen Smith said that the KZN Champs was a vital dress rehearsal for the SA Championships, and that areas of improvement had been identified.
“We are tweaking the new electronic timing system all the time,” he said. “We found that the electronic timing sensors were being triggered at some points so we had to move and adjust these.”
He added that his new group of recently accredited marathon officials had also done a good job, and he hoped their authority would be respected by the athletes, their supporters and families.
“Marathon racing is exciting, and the racing can get quite heated. It’s sad to see the odd athlete or spectator taking this out on an official who is serving at the event.
“The Marathon rules need to be properly understood for this to be eliminated, as in most cases the complaints are not based on a correct understanding of the rules.
“The rules are actually quite broad, so it is up to officials who have passed the required tests to enforce the rules,” he said.
Austen Smith said that a special workshop was being held to discuss and explain the intricacies of the marathon rules, at the NCC clubhouse at 4:30pm on Thursday 28th May.
The SA Marathon Championships will feature selected provincial teams, with a strong team of 53 marathoners confirmed from Gauteng. Individuals are still welcome to enter for the event. Entries are online at www.natalcc.co.za and close on Wednesday 1 June at midnight.