A slightly inexperienced but young and enthusiastic South African team arrived in Tunisia earlier this week for the African Canoe Sprint and Marathon Championships in search of a significant medal haul when the continental championships takes place on Tunis Lake in Tunis from 21-24 November.
A squad of 12 athletes has been assembled to fly the national flag at the continental showpiece with a number of squad members getting their first taste of international competition and as many as five of the squad leaving South African shores for the first time.
“We have got a pretty young squad of paddlers going to the African Champs,” mentioned team manager Phillip van Tonder. “It is exciting that we are taking so many youngsters and with not one of our team being older than 23, it makes the experience even more exciting!”
The squad gathered for a four-day training camp leading up to the trip to Northern Africa with the team settling on the best combinations for the K2 events at their camp at the Roodeplaat Dam in Pretoria.
The team has taken on a number of previously disadvantaged paddlers and van Tonder is excited to see how these athletes go with a large spotlight being put on young Roodeplaat resident Carlton Thantsha who is expected to carry the flame for the community when he takes part in the event for the first time.
“I am really excited to see how Carlton goes at these championships. He has been working really hard and has forced his way through the ranks at the Academy for Canoe Development and he has that added pressure of being a role model for a lot of the younger paddlers.
“He has been with the academy since he was Under 12 and seeing him succeed is something that everyone is hoping for and he has the potential to do well which excites everyone.
“It is his first year in the Under 18 category so it will be a great experience for him heading into next year when I hope he can do really well for South Africa,” an excited van Tonder mentioned.
The squad will consist of a number of first timers but Martin van den Bergh, the most experienced paddler in the team, is set to be the cool, calm and collected head amongst the international novices when the action gets underway on Thursday.
“Martin is the most experienced paddler we have on the team and has represented South African before at a World Championships. He will be battling it out with the Tunisian paddler Mohamed Ali Mrabet who represented his country at the Olympics last year in London so we are very excited and curious to see how he goes.
“Bryan le Roux is another paddler to watch out for,” added van Tonder. “He will be representing us in the under 18 category and is definitely one of the up and coming stars of sprint canoeing in the country!”
A fairly substantial medal haul is the plan for the South African side and, with their eyes set on at least six gold medals, it is going to be an interesting few days of racing if they are to achieve their aims.
“We are hoping to pick up as many medals as possible but realistically we are hoping for six gold medals with a couple silvers and bronze medals to just add to the haul, hopefully.
“The team has been hard at work recently and if they weren’t to achieve these sorts of goals I know that they will be fairly disappointed but, for some of the members, just having the opportunity to wear the South African tracksuit and represent their country is a massive achievement and will provide some added motivation, I am sure,” van Tonder explained.
Team South Africa for the 2013 African Sprint Championships in Tunisia 21-24 November:
Philip van Tonder (Manager), Wayne August (Coach), Martin van den Bergh (Gauteng), Luke Stowman (Western Cape), Joseph Williams ( Western Cape), Melanie van Niekerk (Western Cape), Nombuso Mzolo ( Kwa-Zulu Natal), Brittany Petersen ( Kwa-Zulu Natal), Bryan Leroux ( Kwa-Zulu Natal), Siyabonga Tyiki (Gauteng), Carlton Thantsha (Gauteng), Eduaan Dippenaar (Gauteng), Kayla de Beer (Kwa-Zulu Natal), Nokhanya Shange (Kwa-Zulu Natal).
Martin van den Bergh (5000m, 1000m and 200m K1) Luke Stowman and Joseph Williams (1000m and 200m K2)
Melanie van Niekerk (200m K1), Nombuso Mzolo and Melanie van Niekerk (200m K2)
Brittany Petersen and Nombuso Mzolo (500m K2) Brittany Petersen ( 500 and 5000m K1)
Bryan Leroux (1000 and 5000m K1)
Siyabonga Tyiki and Bryan Leroux (1000m K2) Eduaan Dippenaar (200m K1)
Carlton Thantsha and Eduaan Dippenaar (200m K2)
Kyla de Beer (500m and 200 K1)
Nokhanya Shange (5000m K1)
Kayla de Beer and Nokhanya Shange (500 and 200m K2)