The domestic sprint canoeing showcase takes on added importance at Roodeplaat Dam from Monday to Wednesday next week as a number of global stars prepare to race the best local flatwater speedsters at the SA Sprint Championships.
London Olympics bronze medallist Bridgitte Hartley makes a return to her sprint boat after a year dedicated to marathon challenges on flatwater and the domestic river season.
She will however be able to take nothing for granted as she will be up against the talented Donna Hutton and Esti van Tonder, both of whom are committed sprinters.
On the men’s heat sheets are a number of the sports stars, some making unexpected appearances at the national sprint title decider.
Ten times world marathon champ Hank McGregor’s name stands out in the 5000m K1 heat start-lists, as the 40 year old shifts his gaze to the allure of flatwater sprinting, perhaps the one canoeing discipline that he has not been able to impose his talent on.
Another name that has chins wagging is that of Jean van der Westhuyzen. The former junior marathon K2 world champion has committed to sprinting for Australia and made the move down under after completing his matric at Michaelhouse.
He has now been released by the International Canoe Federation to race in South Africa and challenge for the place in the South African team to the upcoming Under 23 Sprint World Championships.
His principle adversary will be the nuggetty Louis Hattingh, and their showdown in the 1000m decider will be one of the highlights of the regatta.
In the junior section the 1000m and 5000m event favourite is Kearsney College schoolboy Callam Davis, and in the junior girl’s races eyes will be on last year’s national champion Caitlyn Mackenzie, but she is sure to be under pressure from the likes of fellow school girls Cayleigh Shaw and Kate Croudace.
The same venue will also be hosting the popular SA Schools Sprint Regatta, straight after the nationals.
National High Performance coach Craig Mustard said the quality and quantity of the entry for the Schools event was very pleasing.
“Trying something new is always risky and was met with some hesitation from the paddling community,” said Mustard.
“Fortunately the response has been excellent and we have met our targets. We hope that the changes will boost numbers and interest in the discipline,” he added.
The SA Sprint Championships take place at Roodeplaat Dam from 2 to 4 April, followed by the SA Schools regatta at the same venue from 6 to 8 April 2018.