The South African team for the 2018 ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships in Vila de Prado, Portugal is looking forward to getting amongst the medals throughout the four days of competition starting on Thursday.
Having hosted the event in 2017 at Camps Drift, many of that team will be returning in 2018 hoping to better their individual and collective performances after they finished second on the medals table last year behind pre-event favourites Hungary.
In one of the events hallmark races, the South African team will be stepping into a slight unknown without 10-time world champion Hank McGregor contesting the senior men’s K1 race.
The mantle has been shifted to McGregor’s current K2 partner Andy Birkett, who finished behind the star at Camps Drift to claim the silver medal, and his former K2 partner and three-time K2 medallist Jasper Mocké, who is no stranger to K1 racing.
In the men’s K2 race Birkett will team up with McGregor and will have the favourites tag firmly plastered on their boat. Joining them is the Capetonian crew of Stu Maclaren and Kenny Rice.
Maclaren and Rice pushed McGregor and Birkett to the line at the national championships in June and will be hoping to do the same thing on Sunday.
The senior ladies K1 charge will be led by recent Sprint World Championships bronze medallist Bridgitte Hartley and former Under 23 bronze medallist Jenna Ward. Hartley will be hoping to better her 2017 performance where she finished 12th overall.
Hartley has been in good form and her 1000m sprint bronze medal two weeks ago will give her added confidence going into the showdown this weekend.
Ward has always been a paddler to watch with her tenacious attitude and if she can rediscover the form of Oklahoma 2016 then she could be right in contention at the end.
In the women’s K2 race Hartley and Melissa van Rooyen will race together while surfski ace Hayley Nixon will be back again in a K2, this year with young Christie Mackenzie.
Doing battle in the Under 23 age group will be 2017 silver medallist Nick Notten and Louis Hattingh in the men’s K1 race. In the Under 23 women’s K1 race it will be the youngsters in the form of Sabina Lawrie and Christie Mackenzie.
Both Lawrie and Mackenzie have just graduated from the junior ranks so this year’s race provides an opportunity for both to step up to a higher level of competition. Mackenzie won a junior bronze in Pietermaritzburg 12 months ago and Lawrie is the current junior ocean racing world champion so they both come into the race with pedigree.
Hattingh has been working his way back from a horrific hand injury and he too has had the medal success, albeit as a junior in a K2, however with Notten, the pair should be right in the mix at the end of the showdown.
Fighting it out in the junior K1 boys and girls will be Uli Hart and David Evans and Caitlin Mackenzie and Amy Peckett.
Mackenzie will be one of two boats returning in the junior category from last year’s event where she took an early swim which cost her dearly.
She will be hoping that this year’s race is a much better one and along with Epworth school mate Peckett, they will be in search of another junior girl’s medal.
Hart will be the other junior returning and he will go into the race with a lot of confidence following his sixth place finish in 2017. Hart was three minutes outside the medals last year but will have felt he is better equipped for this year’s event.
David Evans won silver in the junior boys K2 race last year so he has experience of being at the front of a race, however he will need to translate that form into a K1 this year before he hops back into his K2 with partner Hamish Mackenzie.
It will be an interesting duel in the junior boys K2 race because Mackenzie and Evans, silver medallists at last year’s world championships, lost out to Hart and Matt Fenn at the SA Champs early in the year.
Both crews will be eager to fight it out for the gold medal, fully aware that the Hungarian junior crews are always a tough nut to crack.
Amy Peckett will be teaming up with Cayleigh Shaw while Caitlin Mackenzie will be partnered by Zara Wood for the junior girls K2 race.
Peckett and Mackenzie finished sixth in the junior K2 race last year and both Wood and Shaw are strong paddlers.
For the day one live streaming follow this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EgcWXVvkZIs