Strong South African challenge for Oklahoma World Champs

Following a tightly contested South African Canoe Marathon Championships at the Homestead Lake in Benoni a week ago the South African Canoe Marathon committee has selected a powerful national team that includes a number of world champions for the 2014 ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships that will be taking place in Oklahoma City USA from 23 to 28 September.

For South African Canoe Marathon Committee Chairman Brett Austen Smith they have managed to select the strongest possible side for the trip. He understands the financial pressure that a trip like this could place on paddlers but is happy with the team that will represent South Africa.

“I am very happy with the team that we have selected,” Austen Smith said. “It is a really expensive trip and so under the circumstances I am happy with the team we have selected. The tour is mostly self-funded, or part funded for Protea paddlers, so we have to see who can afford it. This often means some of the strongest paddlers can’t go for financial reasons which is very unfortunate. Once the final paperwork has been dealt with, we will be able to see who is in the final team.”

The usual suspects made a charge for a spot on the plane for Oklahoma when they took part in the biggest South African Canoe Marathon Championships ever and it was three-time Canoe Marathon World champion Hank McGregor who won the men’s K1 as well as men’s K2 title with partner Jasper Mocké.

With the criteria stating that the top two in each of the senior and junior events would be selected for the South African team reigning Under-23 K1 World Champion Andy Birkett missed out on a K1 selection but he and partner Greg Louw earned selection in a K2. Although Birkett and Louw were third in the SA Champs, they gained selection due to former Junior and U23 World Champion Grant van Der Walt being unavailable for the Tour.

“Grant has been studying recently and so he hasn’t been focusing on his paddling which meant that he made himself unavailable for selection,” said Austen Smith.

“That ultimately meant that we could include Andy (Birkett) and Greg (Louw) in the side to go to Oklahoma.

“This really highlights the depth in the senior men’s canoe marathon discipline. With a world champion unable to make the men’s K1 team just shows the strength that we possess,” an excited Austen Smith explained.

The women’s team will be made up of one K1 and two K2’s with Olympic bronze medallist Bridgitte Hartley being the only women’s K1 and Abby Adie and Laura O’Donoghue making up the one K2 with Under-23 K1 hopeful Jenna Ward and Hayley Arthur partnering up in the second women’s K2.

“Bridgitte was in a class of her own in the K1 final,” Austen Smith commented. “The depth in women’s canoe marathon paddling is not where it was a year ago and this is something we as a Committee need to address in the build-up to 2017”. In the Junior Girls category, the winning boat won’t be going to Oklahoma as, unfortunately the junior K2 team made themselves unavailable for selection because one of the girls is under-16 and has a hectic schedule, recently having been to the African Youth Games in Botswana, and then going to the Youth Olympics later this year.

“It is a little disappointing not being able to see them race at World Champs.

Never the less it will be a strong South African contingent and Austen Smith is confident that there are good paddlers coming through with the Under-23 age group being one to watch from a men’s point of view, he said.

“The Under-23 men are very strong this year and I think that both Brandon van der Walt and Stuart Maclaren are world class paddlers and I believe that we can do really well there.

“We will be strong in the seniors again as well as the masters. We send a very strong field to the World Champs in the masters categories and this year should be no different although it is not the biggest team we have sent to a World Champs,” added an upbeat Austen Smith.

SOUTH AFRICAN CANOE MARATHON CHAMPIONSHIPS TEAM – Canoe Marathon World Championships Oklahoma City 2014

Senior Men: Hank McGregor K1&K2, Jasper Mocké K1&K2, Andrew Birkett K2, Greg Louw K2
Senior Women: Bridgitte Hartley K1, Nikki Russel K1, Abby Adie K2, Laura O’Donoghue K2, Jenna Ward K2, Hayley Arthur K2
Under-23 Men: Brandon van der Walt K1, Stuart Maclaren K1
Under-23 Women: Jenna Ward K1, Brittany Petersen K1
Junior boys: Bryan leroux K1&K2, Louis Hattingh K1&K2, Jean van der Westhuizen K2, Stuart Bristow K2
Junior Girls: Julia Trodd K1, Martine Beukes K1

Masters Team:
Marion Young K1&K1 SV, Gustav Smook K1&K2 SM, Gustav Radloff K1&K2 SM, Katarzyna Lapacz K1 M, Hilde Lapere K1 SGM, Lee McGregor K1&K2 SGM, Alan Hold K1&K2 GM, Chris van den Berg K1 SGGM, John Evans K1&K2 GM, Len Jenkins Snr K1 GGM, Nigel Briggs K2 GM, Cathy Doherty-Bigara K2 SV, Linton Hope K1 SGM.