Birkett and Hartley hold Fish overnight cards
Knutsford – Newly crowned world marathon champion Andy Birkett posted a flawless display to take the SA K1 River Champs overnight lead at the 2022 Fish River Canoe Marathon on Friday while Bridgitte Hartley was equally impressive in her domination of the women’s race on stage one.
Birkett’s international exploits in Portugal didn’t slow him down as he charged into a powerful overnight lead, despite a circumspect start to the stage.
There was a strong group at the front of the race through the early stages and at the famous Keith’s Flyover Birkett managed to get ahead of the bunch and hold them off through the rest of the stage.
Despite his lack of river practice, Euro Steel’s Birkett produced a dominant display to finish seven minutes clear of Clinton Cook in second place while young Matt Fenn ended in third just behind Cook with fourth placed Greg Louw also alongside them.
For Birkett, it was a case of biding his time before he made his decisive move.
“It was so much fun being back on the river, I really enjoyed it but it was quite chilly on the dam but luckily it warmed up on the river,” Birkett said.
“I thoroughly enjoyed being back in the rapids, in the flowing river – back in my happy place.”
Having jetted back from the World Marathon Championships in Portugal this week, Birkett wasn’t concerned about potential fatigue going into Friday’s first stage.
“In our river season and even in our training we go flat out from week to week so I think the biggest adjustment for me was being back in my river boat and being in some flowing water again.
“I tried to take the paddle up to Keith’s conservatively and follow the guys and just try and get my river arms back.”
Birkett took the stage honours and created a sizeable overnight lead over Cook in second place, however he didn’t have any set strategy about getting in front going into the day’s racing.
“There wasn’t any strategy going in and I just tried to stay close to the front but I think that’s my strategy in every race! If I am in with a shot I will try and have a go at the end.
“I got a bit of a gap on Clint Cook after Keith’s and then I just tried to get into a rhythm after that and then just follow the water.”
The women’s race wasn’t quite as clear cut however with Hartley’s overnight lead she showed how much power she has despite an early swim.
“I didn’t feel too great on the dam and on the run but wanted to get into the river and calm the nerves,” Hartley said. “I came in at a bad angle at Double Trouble and I swam and made a real mess of that because when I got back in because I couldn’t get my boat around.
“I just wanted to get comfortable after that but I was a little stressed before Soutpans because I knew if I made a mistake there it was going to be tough for me.
“I had a good run through Soutpans and I always think the race starts from there and I had a good clean run into the finish.”
Hartley’s stage win sees her go into the second and final stage with a sizeable lead over Christie Mackenzie in second and Jordan Peek in third.
East London local Matt Fenn finished as the first Under 23 paddler across the line while young Michaelhouse paddler Jack Shooter was the first Under 18 paddler to finish stage one.
The second and final stage of the race will see paddlers race 37km from Knutsford to Cradock.
More information can be found at www.fishmarathon.org.za.
SUMMARY OF RESULTS – Fish River Canoe Marathon (Stage One – Grassridge Dam to Knutsford)
1. Andy Birkett 2:54:47
2. Clinton Cook 3:01:48
3. Matthew Fenn (U23) 3:01:49
4. Greg Louw 3:01:49
5. Scott Little (U23) 3:05:01
6. David Evans (U23) 3:05:01
7. Wayne Jacobs 3:06:50
8. Thomas Lovemore 3:06:51
9. Trenton Lamble 3:07:30
10. Jack de Swardt (U23) 3:08:23
1. Bridgitte Hartley 3:24:48
2. Christie Mackenzie (U23) 3:27:14
3. Jordan Peek 3:31:11
4. Kirstin Scott 3:41:44
5. Jade Dundas-Starr (U23) 3:44:41
Under 23 Men
1. Matthew Fenn 3:01:49
2. Scott Little 3:05:01
3. David Evans 3:05:01
4. Jack de Swardt 3:08:23
5. Bartho Visser 3:09:39
Under 23 Women
1. Christie Mackenzie 3:27:14
2. Jade Dundas-Starr 3:44:41
3. Tracey Oellermann 3:45:07
Under 18 Boys
1. Jack Shooter 3:14:17
2. James Sharpe 3:22:00
3. Joshua Glyn-Cuthbert 3:23:29