A record breaking field of paddlers will converge on KwaZulu-Natal’s capital this weekend for the 2015 South African Marathon Championships in what many are describing as the start of a two year golden period for the sport in South Africa as the country gears up for the 2017 ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships at Camps Drift.
The home of the iconic Dusi Canoe Marathon is set to stage the biggest event on the globe’s marathon circuit in two years’ time with this weekend’s national championships set to serve as another vital test event for the venue and the event’s organisers alike ahead of the global spectacle.
The national clash does however also have significant 2015 importance as well as not only will the year’s national champions be crowned but the event also serves as the one-off trial for the South African team to represent the country at this year’s World Championships in Gyor, Hungary in September.
Having raced back from his third place effort in the Maui Jim Molokai Challenge in Hawaii last weekend, South Africa’s most decorated paddler Hank McGregor (Jeep Team/Kayak Centre) will hope to have shaken off the effects of his travels as he looks to secure a position in the national team that will give him the opportunity to defend the K1 and K2 world titles he claimed in Oklahoma City last year.
McGregor will however not only have jetlag to overcome but a potent elite men’s field as well, with the likes of former U23 Marathon World Champion Andy Birkett (Euro Steel) as well as McGregor’s fellow 2014 K2 World Champion Jasper Mocké (Mocké Paddling) likely to make strong bids for national honours and World Champs selection themselves.
Mocké’s fellow Western Cape paddler Stu Maclaren has now graduated from the Under-23 men’s category into the senior men’s cauldron and he too will hope to be in the mix during Saturday’s K1 tussle.
Maclaren’s major focus is however likely to rest on Sunday’s K2 clash when he and fellow Cape Townian and former Junior World Champ Brandon van der Walt look to edge out one of the two favoured pairs of McGregor and Mocké as well as Birkett and Eastern Cape paddler Greg Louw.
Van der Walt is passionate about emulating his older brother Grant’s feat of winning a marathon world title as a junior and as an Under 23 athlete, and after finishing second to Birkett in Copenhagen two years ago, this year is his last chance to achieve that rare double.
He will have to deal with the talent of Louis Hattingh who won the Under 18 K1 bronze and then the K2 gold medal in Oklahoma last year with young Jean van der Westhuizen, as well as Cape star Ivan Kruger, local charger Bryan le Roux, Soweto speedster Siseko Ntondini and the Wilson twins, Tyler and Travis.
The women’s contest will see Olympic sprint bronze medalist Bridgitte Hartley squaring up to the group of emerging stars that have been coming on in leaps and bounds in the past year, including surfski star Nicole Russell, Donna Tutton and Western Cape talent Bianca Beavitt in the K1 clash.
The recently married Abby Solms (neé Adie) will also be on the K1 startline, and will team up with her twin sister Alex Adie for Sunday’s K2 duel where they will likely go head to head with MacSqaud’s age group sensations Jenna Ward and Kyeta Purchase as well as the resurgent Hayley Arthur and Donna Tutton.
While serving as this year’s South African marathon national champs, this weekend’s action will also enjoy a strong Australian presence as Under-23’s Bronwyn Martin and Brea Roadley as well as junior Bridgitte Blood take on South Africa’s best emerging Under-23 and Under-18 talent respectively while masters paddlers Lynwen Birch and Margi Bohm also take to the water.
Many of the country’s top vets and masters competitor will also take to Camps Drift’s waters this weekend as they look to earn their place in the South African squad to head to the ICF Masters World Cup that will supersede the elite World Champs showpiece in Milan later this year.