With the ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships, hosted by Natal Canoe Club at Camps Drift, just under a month away, the South African national flatwater marathon championships has plenty at stake as paddlers eye a sought-after spot on the national team this weekend.
With just two spots up on the national team in each age division in both the K1 and K2 races, and this year’s world championship on home soil, the cream of the paddling crop will be in an all-out fight at Camps Drift on Saturday and Sunday.
The programme is going to be a jam packed one with this year’s national championships comfortably eclipsing the 2015 edition as the biggest with over 500 paddlers entered in classes from Under 8’s to Great Grand Masters.
All eyes will be on the senior men’s K1 showdown as eight-time World Champion Hank McGregor goes head-to-head with his 2016 under-study Andy Birkett. McGregor won gold while Birkett took home the silver in the K1 showdown in Brandenburg last year just showing the strength of marathon paddling in South Africa.
Despite this two-man showdown being the focal point there will be a few other paddlers who will be trying to get their noses into the battle. Stuart Maclaren and former Under 23 silver medallist Brandon van der Walt will be hoping to upset the status quo and push for one of the two available spots in the K1 division.
The K2 race will see experienced partners McGregor and Jasper Mocké once again team up while Birkett’s 2016 World Championships bronze medal winning partner Louis Hattingh is unable to paddle due to a severe hand injury.
This has meant that Birkett will team up with young Jean van der Westhuyzen for a shot at the overall men’s title.
Brandon van der Walt and Clinton Cook will prove to be a competitive pair along with the Western Cape duo of Stuart Maclaren and Kenny Rice. Also on the start list is the experienced Graeme Solomon, who will be racing the Czech star Jakub Adam.
There is no separate Under 23 K2 race which means that those paddlers have to race in the senior men’s K2 showdown which adds to the spectacle with this year’s K2 race seeing twelve boats fighting it out for two places.
The ladies racing will be just as competitive with a handful of women hoping to impress at the national showpiece.
In the senior women’s K1 race Pietermaritzburg local and Olympic sprint bronze medallist Bridgitte Hartley has been preparing hard for this year’s race and will be a formidable force.
Also in the hunt will be former two-time Under 23 marathon bronze medallist Jenna Ward as well as the likes of 2016 World Champs squad members Nikki Russell and Bianca Beavitt.
Michelle Burn and Hayley Nixon will also be on the start line and the presence of the two surfski stars prove that women’s paddling in South Africa is currently very competitive.
The younger age categories, Under 23 and juniors, will also prove to be entertaining spectacles with a number of exciting young paddlers in the mix.
Under 18 star Jean van der Westhuyzen has decided that he will be racing in the Under-23 age category and with the likes of Tom Lovemore, Mark Keeling, sprinter Stuart Bristow and 2016 Brandenburg veteran Nick Notten present it will be an interesting tussle.
In the ladies Under 23 dice the paddler to watch is Kyeta Purchase. Although this is Purchase’s first year in the Under 23 division she won a bronze in the Under 18 girls race at the World Championships last year which proves that she is a fierce competitor.
The junior girls K1 event will be an interesting one, however the race might be for second behind 2017 FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon runner-up Christie Mackenzie.
In the K2 division there has been a shake up with the 2016 silver medal winning partnership of Jenna Ward and Kyeta Purchase splitting up with the former teaming up with Nikki Russell and Purchase joining forces with Bianca Beavitt.
The event will also see masters paddlers fighting it out as they prepare for the ICF Masters World Cup which takes place a few days before the world’s best do battle at Camps Drift.
South Africa’s masters team has historically dominated at the Masters World Cup and with the event in South Africa this year more of the same can be expected.
2017 South African Marathon Championships Program of Events
Saturday 12 August – K1 Events
08:00 – Sub Veteran Men
08:02 – Veteran Men
08:04 – Sub Master Men
08:06 – Master Men
08:08 – Sub Grandmaster Men
08:10 – Grandmaster Men
08:12 – All Master Women 35-64 Years
08:14 – Sub Great Grandmaster Men
08:16 – Great Grandmaster Men
08:18 – C1 Masters
10:15 – Guppy Under 12 Boys
10:17 – Guppy Under 12 Girls
10:19 – Guppy Under 10 Boys
10:21 – Guppy Under 10 Girls
10:23 – Guppy Under 8 Boys
10:25 – Guppy Under 8 Girls
11:00 – Masters K1 and Guppy Medal Ceremony
11:30 – Junior Boys (U18/U16)
11:32 – Junior Girls (U18/U16)
11:34 – Junior Boys Under 14
11:36 – Junior Girls Under 14
11:42 – Para-Paddling
14:00 – Senior Men
14:02 – Under 23 Men
14:04 – Senior Women
14:06 – Under 23 Women
14:08 – C1 Men
17:15 – Senior & Under 23 + Junior K1 Medal Ceremony
Sunday 13 August – K2 Events
08:30 – Sub Veteran Men
08:32 – Veteran Men
08:34 – Sub Master Men
08:36 – Master Men
08:38 – All Master Women 35-64 Years
08:40 – Sub Grandmaster Men
08:42 – Grandmaster Men
08:44 – Sub Great Grandmaster Men
08:48 – Great Grandmaster Men
11:00 – Junior Boys (U18/U16)
11:02 – Junior Girls (U18/U16)
11:04 – Junior Boys Under 14
11:06 – Junior Girls Under 14
13:30 – Senior Men
13:32 – Senior Women
13:34 – C2 Men
16:30 – Senior and Junior Medal Ceremony