At a gala dinner in Hillcrest on Sunday evening, South African paddling icons Hank McGregor and Bridgitte Hartley were named African Canoe Federation’s Men’s and Women’s Paddler of the Year for 2015, bringing down the curtain on the 2016 ICF Canoe Sprint African Championships held at Shongweni Dam this past weekend.
The three days of racing saw team South Africa dominate the Continental Championships and 2016 Olympic Games qualifier’s proceedings, with the host nation going on to top the final medal standings with fifteen medals, twelve of which were gold.
McGregor, who did not take part in the sprint event but has excelled on both locally and internationally over the past decade, resulting in him being named the World Paddle Awards Male Paddler of the Year in 2014, was thrilled by the award from the Confederation of African Canoeing (CAC).
“It is a great honour to receive this award and be recognized on a continental level, especially coming off the back of winning the Paddler of the Year title at the World Paddle Awards last year,” said McGregor.
“It’s a proud moment for me and hopefully it helps my paddling peers, especially the youth, aspire to do their best and also realise that if they are willing to put in the hard work then the results and accolades will come,” he added.
Hartley, the 2012 London Olympics K1 Women 500m bronze medallist, added her appreciation for the continental recognition.
“It is great to be recognised by your peers on the African continent,” said Hartley. “I hope this can serve as further motivation for the other female paddlers in Africa to keep working and driving the competitive standard of women’s canoeing.”
Having already secured Olympic qualification at last year’s World Championships, the continental clash presented Hartley with another good opportunity to continue her preparations for the Rio de Janeiro showpiece in August.
“Having had all this racing at Shongweni – just down the road from where I stay – over the past few weeks has been great and I definitely think it has benefitted me,” she confirmed after winning her K1 Women 500m clash.
“I’ve been able to compete at the KZN Champs, SA Champs and now the African Champs all on the same piece of water and while being an outdoors sport and so conditions obviously change, it has been nice to be able to compare a few races and say ‘yes, I’m on track of Rio’.
“I was happy with how things went; it got a bit hard at the end and I slowed up a bit but it’s a good starting block for me.
“I’ve got almost two months before my first major competition still and if I can do a 1:55 in South Africa then I think I’m on track at this stage!” she added contently.
Hartley, who also claimed victories in the weekend’s K1 Women 200m and K1 Women 5000m events, joined Bianca Beavitt and Melanie van Niekerk (K2 Women 500m and K2 Women 200m) and young Donna Hutton (K1 Junior Women 500m and K1 Junior Women 200m) as Team South Africa’s four multiple title winners.
“I really enjoyed the course at Shongweni Dam; it’s one of the nicest courses I’ve paddled on in South Africa,” explained Under-18 athlete Hutton.
“It was also great to have had the opportunity to get to know the course and the conditions at SA Champs and SA Schools that took place over the two weekends before African Champs!” she added.
Under-23 talent Louis Hattingh came close to securing the K1 Men 1000m title, narrowly missing out to Tunisia’s Mohamed Ali Mrabet, but went on to win the K2 Men 1000m with Stu Maclaren while Jean van der Westhuyzen was in a class of his own in the K1 Junior Men 1000m.
“This is my first African Champs so it was nice to get the win and my first continental title,” explained Van der Westhuyzen.
“It was great to race another 1000m race before World Champs in July, which is my next major focus before I try to make the marathon team for Worlds,” added the Michaelhouse pupil.
The 200m events also saw Team South Africa well represented with victories by Jarryd Gibson (K1 Junior Men 200m), Chrisjan Coetzee (K1 Men 200m) and Calvin Clack and Cameron Hudson (K2 Senior Men 200m).
Maclaren added a bronze medal to his tally with his K1 Men 5000m effort while Calvin Mokoto and Radoslav Olszewski repeated the feat in the C2 Men 1000m dash.