The South African marathon canoeists will be on their way to Shaoxing, China this week as they set their sights on another big medal haul at the 2019 ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships next week.
Interestingly, it will be the first time that many of the paddlers will be racing in China as marathon racing makes its global debut in the Far East which might level the playing field as the unknown will play a large part in the contest from 17-20 October.
South Africa will be going to the showdown with arguably one of its strongest sides as the team look to dominate the senior division.
The men’s K2 combinations are both medal contenders with Hank McGregor and Andy Birkett out to defend their gold medal they won last year in Portugal, while their team mates Louis Hattingh and Alex Masina will also be looking for a medal.
The younger pair of Hattingh and Masina pushed the more fancied McGregor and Birkett all the way to the line during the recent South African national championships and will take huge confidence into the world championships.
From a women’s perspective both crews are also medal hopefuls. Christie Mackenzie and Bridgitte Hartley won the national championships earlier this year against former world championship silver medallists Jenna Ward and Kyeta Purchase.
McGregor returns to the fold having opted out of last year’s K1 selection and he and Birkett will once again target a South Africa one-two in China. The pair grabbed the top two spots on the K1 podium at the 2017 championships in Pietermaritzburg.
Former age group K1 medallist Jenna Ward and Bridgitte Hartley will be hoping to win South Africa’s first ever senior women’s K1 medal this year. Hartley has had a frantic year and her best result internationally was a fourth in 5000m K1 race at the Sprint World Championships in Szeged a few months ago.
In the under 23 division Alex Masina and Christie Mackenzie will be hoping to repeat their medal winning feats of two years ago – although both were racing in the junior division on home turf on that occasion.
Masina will be joined by Hamish Lovemore in the under 23 men’s K1 race while Purchase and Mackenzie will be the two paddlers doing the business in the under 23 women’s race.
With no under 23 K2 races Masina, Mackenzie and Purchase will all be racing in the senior division at this year’s championships.
In the junior division the South African team will be hoping to continue the legacy of strong junior performances at the World Championships.
Hamish Mackenzie will make his K1 debut this year when he joins 2018 veteran Uli Hart. Amy Peckett will also be returning for another shot at the junior girls K1 podium along with debutant Nosipho Mthembu.
In the junior K2 showdowns Mackenzie will team up with David Evans as they plan to make it a hat-trick of medals with silver and a bronze to their names in the last two years.
The other junior boys K2 boat will see two world championship debutants as Gustav Smook Junior and Bartho Visser join forces.
In the junior girls race Peckett and Mthembu will form one of the doubles combinations while two more World Championship debutants Georgina Howard and Melonie Croser will make up the other K2 partnership.
The racing will be preceded by the annual Masters Cup that stages K1 and K2 races for veteran and masters age group paddlers.
Team South Africa has a strong tradition of dominating this precursor to the World Championships, but with a smaller contingent of age-group paddlers making the trip to China, they will have to rely on quality of medals more than quantity this year.
TEAM SOUTH AFRICA – ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships, Shaoxing China
Andy Birkett, Hank McGregor (Senior Men), Bridgitte Hartley, Jenna Ward (Senior Women), Hamish Lovemore, Alex Masina (U23 Men), Kyeta Purchase, Christie Mackenzie (U23 Women), Hamish Mackenzie, Uli Hart (Junior Men), Amy Peckett, Georgina Howard (Junior Women).
Andy Birkett/Hank McGregor, Alex Masina/Louis Hattingh (Senior Men)
Christie Mackenzie/Bridgitte Hartley, Jenna Ward/Kyeta Purchase (Senior Women)
Hamish Mackenzie/David Evans, Gustav Smook JNR/Bartho Visser (Junior Men)
Amy Peckett/Nosipho Mthembu, Georgina Howard/Melonie Croeser (Junior Women)