SA Marathon Team named for Worlds

Following a typically hard fought Prescient South African Canoe Marathon Championships in Cape Town recently the South African team to do battle at the 2016 ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships in Brandenberg, Germany has been selected with world champ Hank McGregor set to lead the Republic’s charge.

Euro Steel/Kayak Centre’s McGregor, who is an eight-time World Champion, showed his marathon racing prowess when he mastered the tricky conditions at the recent national championships bout at a windy Zandvlei near Muizenberg and added another national title to his long list of achievements.

His closest rival, Euro Steel’s Andy Birkett, capsized twice during the race but the former Under 23 World Marathon Champion showed his determination and got himself back in the race and finished in that all-important runner’s up position which gave him the second Senior Men’s K1 spot.

“I would hope that I have grown and improved as a paddler but my two swims at SA Champs might suggest otherwise,” Birkett said tongue firmly in cheek.

“It was one of my worst qualifying races ever but I was glad that the first swim was early in the race and then after my second swim Hank actually waited for me which I really appreciated.”

Birkett’s 2015 World Championship assault in Győr, Hungary was one that he was not satisfied with as he finished outside the top ten in the K1 race and his training and preparation has been geared towards making amends for that disappointment.

“There are a few things that I have done differently this year and one is that I really didn’t want to peak at SA Champs – I think that was a big problem for me last year.

“I want to working hard going into Worlds and rectify what happened last year – I am not going there to win the race but I really want to put in a much better effort,” a determined Birkett added.

The men’s K2 event was no less competitive despite pre-race favourites and 2015 World Championship silver medallists Hank McGregor and Jasper Mocké not being together on the start line as Mocké, who had recently returned from surfski paddling in Hawaii, was unable to start due to sickness.

McGregor then paddled the race with Soweto Canoe and Recreation Club ace Siseko Ntondini however they were no match for the Pietermaritzburg based Birkett and Under-23 star Louis Hattingh who won the race from Stuart MacLaren and Brandon van der Walt in second.

“We are feeling really good in the K2 and I am really enjoying paddling with Louis,” Birkett added.

“The combination has been good and we don’t have a lean which is a first for me so we are looking forward to getting to Germany and taking on the best K2’s in the world!

“It could have been a different race had Hank and Jasper been on the start line but we are happy that we could race well against a good field of paddlers!”

The Canoeing South Africa Board took the decision to include the pair of McGregor and Mocké in the South African team despite them being unable to compete together which will give them the chance to compete for another gold medal in the Men’s K2.

The women’s team will be led by the diminutive Jenna Ward. The MACSquad star will be in her third and final year of Under-23 and with two World Championship K1 bronze medals to her name she will be hoping that she can turn that into silver or gold.

Kyeta Purchase, who was a revelation at the 2015 World Champs, returns to partner Ward in a young K2 that mixed it up with the best at the 2015 showpiece and will be hoping to emulate that performance again in 2016.

Purchase will also be paddling in the Under 18 category in a K1 along with Christie Mackenzie while the latter will team up with Sabine Lawrie for the Junior Girls K2 event.

Ward and Melanie van Niekerk will represent South Africa in the Under 23 Women’s K1 event with Bianca Beavitt and Nicole Russell selected to compete in the Senior Women’s K1 event.

Louis Hattingh and Nicholas Notten will represent the Rainbow Nation in the Under 23 Men’s K1 event with the impressive Jean van der Westhuyzen teaming up with Mark Keeling in the Junior Boys K2. The pair will also be team South Africa’s representatives in the Junior Boys K1.

Zachery Preyser and his Western Cape partner Ulvard Hart will be the second Junior Boys boat at the Championships.

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U18 Boys – Jean van der Westhuyzen, Mark Keeling
U18 Girls – Kyeta Purchase, Christie Mackenzie

U23 Men – Louis Hattingh, Nicholas Notten
U23 Women – Jenna Ward), Melanie van Niekerk

Senior Men – Hank McGregor, Andy Birkett
Senior Women – Nicole Russell, Bianca Beavitt

U18 Boys – Jean van der Westhuyzen/Mark Keeling, Zachery Preyser/Ulvard Hart
U18 Girls – Sabina Lawrie/Christie Mackenzie

Senior Men – Andy Birkett/Louis Hattingh, Hank McGregor/Jasper Mocké
Senior Women – Jenna Ward/Kyeta Purchase