Andy Birkett and Hank McGregor powered to the men’s K2 world title in the final event of the ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships in Portugal on Sunday to hand Birkett the double and secure an 11th world title for McGregor.
South Africa were named as winners in the overall team kayak rankings at the end of the four days of competition.
The Durban-based duo of McGregor and Birkett were always in control of the fast-paced, eight-lap, 30km race on the Cavada River in Prado Vila Verde and led the seven-boat front bunch into the last portage, before surging away on the final 1,000m lap to claim the gold medal, holding off Hungarians Adrián Boros and László Solti.
The pair surprised many by opting to race Birkett in the front of the kayak, leaving McGregor to provide the power from the back cockpit and to use his tactical acumen to advise Birkett on the ferocious dynamics at play in the front group.
They managed to stay clear of the jostling that characterised the race, conserving their energy and only asserting themselves when it counted.
Birkett, who won the K1 gold medal the day before, admitted that he was worried about his stamina when fatigue hit him early on in the race.
‘On lap two, I said to Hank “I need to jump off and have a sleep”, I was pretty broken,’ said Birkett.
‘But that is where teamwork really makes a difference and Hank just took up the slack.
‘It’s really reassuring having someone like Hank in the back, giving me tips and having my back when the other guys are coming up,’ said Birkett.
An elated McGregor heaped praised on Birkett, and said that he might rethink his retirement from K1 racing after watching the singles duel from the commentary box. ‘Never say never,’ he said ominously.
After a very encouraging start, the Cape pairing of Stu MacLaren and Kenny Rice were shrugged off the front bunch in a momentary lack of concentration but went on to finish 10th overall.
In the women’s K2 race, the South African crew of Hayley Nixon and Christie Mackenzie fought gallantly for the minor places on the podium after the race for the 2018 world title was settled.
Their race came down to a sprint to the line with the Spanish crew of Tania Alvarez and Tania Fernandez, which they lost in the dying seconds of the race, leaving them in fourth place.
The other South African crew of Bridgitte Hartley and Melissa van Rooyen finished in 10th position.
The women’s K2 title fell to the juggernaut Hungarian crew of Renata Csay and her young partner Zsofia Czellai-Voros, giving the legend Csay her 19th World Championship gold medal.
The event has been a successful one for the large South African team contesting the event. They ended with four medals, Andy Birkett’s K1 gold and three bronze medals, going into the final day, to go with the haul of 24 medals from the Masters Cup races.
PHOTOS: Birkett and McGregor taking out of the water and Mackenzie and Nixon celebrating the finish, by Cam Hudson/Gameplan Media
SUMMARY OF FINAL DAY RESULTS
1 Renáta Csay/Zsófia Czellai-Voros HUN 1hr 56min 14.05sec
2 Eva Barrios/ Amaia Osaba ESP 1:58:59.37
3 Tania Alvarez/Tania Fernandez ESP 1:59:29.22
4 Hayley Nixon/Christie Mackenzie SA 1:59:30.42
5 Joana Sousa/ Ana Valentim POR 1:59:36.00
6 Anna Koziskova/Katerina Milova CZE 1:59:39.17
7 Michele Eray/Margaret Hogan USA 1:59:48.18
8 Lize Broekx/Hermien Peters BEL 1:59:52.45
9 Rebecca Mann/Isabel Neilson AUS 2:01:21.95
10 Bridgitte Hartley/Melissa van Rooyen SA 2:01:33.54
1 Andy Birkett/Hank McGregor SA 2:02:16
2 Adrián Boros/László Solti HUN 2:02:16
3 Miguel Llorens/Luis Pérez ESP 2:02:18
4 Jose Julian/Miguel Fernandez ESP 2:02:19
5 Stéphane Boulanger/Edwin Lucas FRA 2:02:20
6 Daniel Salbu/Morten Minde NOR 2:02:44
7 Márton Mészáros/Gábor Aranyosi HUN 2:02:56 8 Sven Paufler/Marcel Paufler GER 2:092:59
9 Filippo Vincenzi/Alessandro Bonacina ITA 2:03:02
10 Stuart Maclaren/Kenneth Rice SA 2:03:35