The 25th SA Schools Sprint Championships and the first ever SA Cup took place on the Buffalo River in East London this past weekend with both paddlers and organisers coming away with smiles on their faces post event.
The weekend’s racing saw over 200 paddlers battling it out in K1 and K2 boats over various distances from 200 metres to 5000 metres. It was Under 18 paddlers Uli Hart and Zara Wood that stole the show while senior stars Chrisjan Coetzee, Bridgitte Hartley, Louis Hattingh, Donna Hutton and Esti van Tonder shone brightly.
Excitingly the under 18 boys title was decided by half a point with Hart beating local star Jordy Malherbe 171,5 to 171 to take the title.
This year was the first year that the SA Cup was included into the Schools event. The SA Cup is a new event set up for the senior paddlers to race for national selection ahead of the 2019 international World Cup’s and World Championships.
Thursday saw the competition start with 1000m straight line racing for age groups U16 to seniors. Most of the paddlers were paddling in a tidal river as well as salt water course for the first time.
Even though new to most paddlers the pre-race favourites proved that they could manage the conditions and in the junior section Uli Hart walked away with gold in the U18 race while Louis Hattingh from KZN took gold in the senior men’s race.
In the ladies junior section local star Zara Wood won gold and in the senior race it was London 2012 Olympic bronze medalist and 2019 World Championships bronze medallist Bridgitte Hartley from KZN who won the gold medal.
Friday saw the Under 8 to Under 14 age groups take part in the 200m and 500m events.
Only once you are Under 16 do you take part in the 1000m.
The junior 500m races produced two different winners with Western Province’s Hart and Jackie van der Westhuyzen coming out on top ahead of the locals Malherbe and Wood.
In the senior division the powerful Chrisjan Coetzee of Western Province and the impressive Donna Hutton from KwaZulu-Natal produced the fastest times to claim victory.
The 200m events promised to be the fastest of the three however tough conditions meant that remaining upright became a priority for some.
The conditions didn’t deter the local juniors Jordy Malherbe and Wood who won the Junior Boy’s and Junior Girl’s 200m races as the latter stamped her authority on the SA School’s event.
In the senior events it was Coetzee who handled the conditions the best and walked away with his second K1 win. Esti van Tonder also showed that she is in her best form winning the senior women’s race in what were the worst conditions of the weekend.
Wood and Hart ended up as the top placed junior paddlers with three gold’s and a silver for Wood in the K1 races. Hart picked up two gold’s, a silver and a bronze in the K1 races.
In the K2 events Wood won three gold’s and a silver while Hart bagged two gold’s and a silver.
Under 16 paddler Pierre van der Westhuyzen won the K1 in his age category and then paddled to gold in the Under 18 K2 200m and 500m and silver in the 1000m and 5000m K2 races.
“Great results like this are so important and encouraging for South African Canoeing and more specifically to South African Sprinting and its future,” CSA Sprint Committee Chairman Craig Mustard said.
“These athletes have put in the hard work and they really deserve their results.
“Traditionally we see large numbers of U14 and U16s then a big drop in U18 section but this year saw the U18 section having the second highest amount of entries.
“Our development teams are also continually growing and the level of paddlers coming from out of the development teams is of such a high quality that the U14 section is now and for the last two years been totally dominated by the KZN development team and 2019 SA Schools was another successful year for them.”