Following another successful outing at the ICF Canoe Marathon Masters World Cup this week the focus shifts to the elite seniors and juniors athletes as the clock ticks down to the start of the 2016 ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships from 16-18 September in the German town of Brandenburg.
With no less than 11 medals in the bag during the Masters World Cup the tone has been set for the elite paddlers who will be contesting every kayak race at the competition, where the team has a significant chance of at winning medals.
With six-time World Champion and Euro Steel/Kayak Centre star Hank McGregor leading the charge and two-time Under 23 K1 bronze medallist Euro Steel’s Jenna Ward also amongst the team the chances of winning medals across the board are strong.
Heading into the showpiece Euro Steel’s Andy Birkett has hit a good patch of form in his K1 after he took the honours at the recent ICF Canoe Marathon World Cup leg in Portugal that featured a number of the top marathon paddlers however Birkett isn’t looking into that result too much.
“We were missing the Spaniards at the World Cup as well as Hank (McGregor) so it wasn’t quite as competitive as the World Champs is going to be but I was happy with the result,” Birkett said.
“I don’t feel that I have got a lot of pressure on me as I am still learning how to race marathons and I am not expecting to go from sixth last year to a gold medal and I would be really happy with a top five!”
When the K2 race comes around on Sunday Birkett will team up with fellow Pietermaritzburg ace and 2014 Under 18 K2 gold medallist Louis Hattingh and the former believes that the pair has what it takes to put in a solid performance.
“Louis and I sit well in the boat which is a good start and we have had some good sessions in the K2 together.”
The pair took the top honours at the South African Marathon Championships earlier in the year where the pair of McGregor and Jasper Mocké did not compete however the experience would have given them confidence.
“The K2 race is always difficult and the competition is incredibly tough so we are not going to set too higher expectations of ourselves and we just want to enjoy the challenge of taking on the best in the world,” a relaxed Birkett added.
The South African team will head into the champs with a quiet confidence as a number of the team returned from the World Champs in Hungary in 2015 just outside the medals and they will have hoped that a year’s worth of experience will give them the push towards the podium.
Under 18 stars Kyeta Purchase and Jean van der Westhuyzen will look to lead the K1 charge with the latter having tasted success in 2014 in a K2 and earlier in the year winning a junior 1000 metre sprint World Championships bronze medal.
Mark Keeling and Christie Mackenzie will also be involved in the their respective K1 junior showdowns with Keeling teaming up with Van der Westhuyzen and Sabine Lawrie joining Mackenzie for the junior K2 bouts.
Louis Hattingh and Nicholas Notten will contest the Under 23 K1 race with Jenna Ward and Melanie van Niekerk taking on the world’s best in the Under 23 Women’s K1 event.
The senior ladies taking part in the world championships are South African Marathon champion Nikki Russell along with 2016 Berg River Canoe Marathon champion Bianca Beavitt whilst Hank McGregor and Andy Birkett do battle in the senior men’s category.
With no Under 23 K2 events at World Championships the young duo of Jenna Ward and Kyeta Purchase will fly the flag in the senior women’s K2 event with Birkett and Hattingh and McGregor and Mocké representing the nation in the senior men’s K2 contest.
ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships 2017 – Brandeburg, Germany.
Team South Africa
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
Friday, 16 September
09:00 – Junior Girls K1
11:30 – Under 23 Women K1
14:45 – Under 23 Men K1
Saturday, 17 September
09:00 – Junior Boys K1
09:03 – Junior Girls K2
11:30 – Senior Women K1
14:45 – Senior Men K1
Sunday, 18 September
09:00 – Junior Boys K2
11:30 – Senior Women K2
14:30 – Senior Men K2