Team SA thrive at marathon worlds

After being heaped with praise for hosting the thoroughly successful 2017 ICF Canoe Marathon World at Camps Drift, Team SA is celebrating winning the overall men’s kayak team title and  finishing second on the medal table behind the dominant Hungary over the four days of competition.

It is the third year in succession that the South African men have won the men’s kayak team title, topped off by now ten-time world champion Hank McGregor’s achievements in the men’s K1 and men’s K2 showdowns where he edged fellow South African Andy Birkett for the K1 crown and the impressive Hungarian pair of Adrian Boros and Laszlo Solti for the K2 gold.

McGregor’s impressive milestones might have overshadowed a number of other noteworthy performances from the South African squad with junior’s Alex Masina and Christie Mackenzie, Under 23 star Nick Notten, and our junior K2 crew of Hamish Mackenzie and Dave Evans all becoming first-time world championship’s medallists.

Canoeing South Africa’s General Manager Colin Simpkins was full of praise for the entire team that took part in both the Masters Cup and the Marathon World Championships.

“We really couldn’t have asked for anything more from our paddlers,” Simpkins said.

“They were terrific ambassadors for our sport and I am sure that their performances have gone a long way in boosting the profile of marathon paddling and bringing the discipline to the fore.

“If we can get all paddlers to understand marathon paddling and the tactics that are involved it can only improve paddling in this country.”

Despite the success for the South African team there was despair as gold medal hopefuls Hamish Lovemore and Callam Davis lost their steering mechanism within the final 2.5km which relegated them to sixth overall. Despite this race-ending issue they continued and finished the race well inside the top 10.

“For me that junior race was the race of the championships. It was incredibly sad to see those young boys fall out of contention in the K2 race, but their determination to finish was admirable.

“It was also a huge moment for paddling in South Africa when Alex Masina became the first black paddler to win a medal at a world championships when he won bronze in the junior men’s K1,” he added.

Junior girl’s medallist Christie Mackenzie benefitted from a mistake on the final portage behind her that saw an Italian girl fall out at the put-in and hold up the following paddlers which gave the student the gap to paddle away to an impressive bronze medal.

Under 23 men’s K1 medal hopeful Jean van der Westhuyzen’s race was finished when he fell out his boat during an early-race tussle with eventual winner Argentina’s Franco Balboa. This left Nick Notten to take up the charge and the Capetonian held off the South American until the final 250m where he was overtaken and settled for a well-deserved silver medal.

Saturday and Sunday provided the local fans with the opportunity to see multiple world champion Hank McGregor race, and they were not disappointed.

The master worked and manipulated the bunch throughout the race as he sprinted clear in the final 300m to win his fifth straight world championship K1 gold. He was closely followed by Andy Birkett and Hungary’s Boros in third.

The South African charge in the women’s K1 and K2 never quite materialised with the highlight being a strong fifth place in the K2 race from Hayley Nixon and Michelle Burn.

Sunday’s action was close to a carbon-copy of Saturday’s with the end sprint deciding the winners and once again it was McGregor, this time in partnership with Jasper Mocké, who out-paced the field to win a third K2 gold medal in four years.

Birkett partnered up with young Jean van der Westhuyzen for the K2 showpiece and the pair paddled strongly to be in contention right to the line but were pipped to the silver by 2015 winners Boros and Solti.