A flawless three days of racing from Andy Birkett and Lance Kime resulted in a combined eighth FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon crown for the pair as Birkett registered his sixth and Kime his second title at Blue Lagoon in Durban on Saturday.
And, after dominating the first two days, Abby Solms and Anna Kožíšková duly wrapped up their maiden victory in the race as the focus of the final day’s racing shifted to the battle for second place.
Having built up a healthy eight and a half minute lead going into the final day the Euro Steel pair had the title at their mercy following two sublime days of paddling but getting to the finish on the final day was a slog despite the absence of an immediate challenger.
‘You forget that everyone is tired on the final day,’ Birkett said after their win. ‘Everyone is racing on tired bodies because the racing on day one and day two is really tough.
’You push it to the limit on those first two days which means that you need to keep your momentum on day three and try and not let the pace dip for too long.’
With the current drought being a dominant topic in the build-up to the race the lack of time spent on the river was a problem for the paddlers however the weather gods dished up a variety of conditions over the three days.
‘Conditions wise, I think, we got the opposite to what we actually expected. In the build-up we didn’t have much of a chance to get on the river and trip a lot but the bit of decent water on day one made things easier than we were expecting.
‘We were expecting a super low, super-hot conditions on day one but we got the opposite but then we got the opposite of that on day two!, Birkett smiled. ‘We got a hot day and not an excess amount of water so day two was some really tough racing,’ Birkett added.
With the winners clocking up a 10-minute winning margin the most interesting aspect of the men’s race was the battle for second.
The contest ebbed and flowed through the majority of the final day with Hank McGregor and Jasper Mocké making a navigational error that gave Sbonelo Khwela and Banetse Nkhoesa a sniff that made the race much more interesting.
‘We took it easy on the downhill of Burma Road and didn’t want to twist an ankle or anything but when we got to the bottom I think I had a lapse of concentration and took a wrong path when Sbonelo and Banetse went past us.
‘After the put-in we knew that we had to break their mojo and when we passed them we realised that we knew how tired we were because we didn’t pass them as quickly as we thought which just showed how strong they were,’ McGregor added.
Khwela and Nkhoesa’s trump card on day three was always going to be the notorious Burma Road portage and it proved to be just that for the Euro Steel/Red Bull duo however it was always going to be a difficult task for the pair to hold off the former marathon world champions.
‘We knew that we had to catch Hank and Jasper before Burma because if they had an advantage on the other side they could make up time so when we put in first we tried to go as hard as we could to try and hold them off but they caught us easily.
‘Before we got to Pump House they got past us and I said to Banetse that we were going to have to settle for third place,’ Khwela added.
Veteran Len Jenkins wound back the clock as he and Ad Reach/Euro Steel partner Siseko Ntondini produced the third fastest time of the final day to pull themselves from ninth overall overnight to a fifth place finish.
With a podium position in their grasp the Under-23 pair of Andrew and Alan Houston were struck down with the younger of the two, Alan, going down with a bug overnight which meant that they relinquished their podium spot but ended in fourth overall.
The Under-18 prize went to Mphilo Zondi and Mark Keeling who decimated the rest of the junior field to win by over 18 minutes over Emanuel Zaloumis and Hamish Lovemore.
Back to the women’s race and after finishing as runner-up six times, Solms finally added the only major river title in South Africa that was missing from her outstanding record, while Kožíšková became the first foreign winner of the FNB Dusi.
Despite the fact that they had a more than commanding lead over the rest of the women’s field Solms found the going difficult on the final day.
‘There was such a crazy headwind on the dam, huge waves of about half-a-metre crashing into the boat,’ the six-time runner up said. ‘Some of us had to go to the edge and empty our boats. I don’t know how long it took us to get across there.
‘Even when running Burma Road, we had the wind pushing the boat from the side. I did hear there was going to be a strong headwind, but I didn’t think it would be that bad.’
It was the first time that either Solms or Kožíšková had run the dreaded Burma portage and it certainly required a lot of mental strength.
‘It was very tough, especially the steep part, because I have short legs and I am small and the boat is quite heavy at the back. But I managed it.’
The pair played it safe, choosing to portage at Pumphouse Weir before the long slog against the wind into Durban.
‘It was down to our hard work, experience and preparation that we had such a smooth race,’ Solms reckoned. ‘Nothing went wrong today. It was just a hard day because of the conditions that we were faced with.’
Behind the winners, the three-way battle for second place quickly become a two-way battle for the runner-up position as Jenna Ward and Vanda Kiszli, second overnight, were done in by illness, although they bravely pushed on to the finish in the inhospitable conditions.
Tamika Haw and Alex Adie, Abby Solms’ twin sister, duelled it out with schoolgirls Cana Peek and Kyeta Purchase from the start on Inanda Dam, and it was there, in the rough conditions, that they made a decisive move. By the first portage at Top’s Needle, they had built up a lead of over a minute on their younger opposition.
They maintained it over Burma Road and then increased it when they shot Pumphouse Weir. ‘Burma was quite tough. I had never done it before, but we managed to walk the uphills hard and then on the downhill we went as hard as we could,’ Haw said.
‘I looked at Pumphouse Weir this morning and because we were all so close we decided to shoot it. It worked in our favour.’
Adie admitted: ‘We were hoping we could sneak onto the podium. It was a tough few days because it was cat and mouse. We were third [after day one] and fourth [after day two], but we didn’t give up and kept going.’
After a fantastic effort Peek and Purchase, both 17 years of age, had to settle for third place, while Ward and Kiszli were relegated to fourth, with the Hungarian Under-23 marathon world champion requiring immediate medical treatment after finishing.
SUMMARY OF RESULTS – 2016 FNB DUSI CANOE MARATHON STAGE THREE (INANDA DAM TO BLUE LAGOON) AND OVERALL TIME
1 Andy Birkett/Lance Kime 2hr 19min 15sec + 7:52.09 overall
2 Hank McGregor/Jasper Mocké 2:21.52
3 Sbonelo Khwela/Banetse Nkhoesa 2:19.15 8:03.02
4 Alan Houston/Andrew Houston (U23) 2:27.08 8:10.15
5 Len Jenkins/Siseko Ntondini 2:20.32 8:16.18
6 Murray Starr/Owen Gandar 2:20.36 8:16.22
7 Carl Folscher/Ant Stott 2:23.52 8:16.29
8 Shaun Rubenstein/Thulani Mbanjwa 2:32.22 8:25.02
9 Greg Louw/Adrian Boros (HUN) 2:25.24 8:32.08
10 Mmeli Cele/Khumbulani Nzimande (U23) 2:30.04 8:33.13
11 Jacques Theron/Piers Cruickshanks 2:33.19 8:37.34
12 Kwanda Mhlophe/Loveday Zondi 2:30.32 8:37.38
13 Murray Haw/James Speed (U23) 2:31.50 8:40.17
14 Lucas Mthalane/Sipho Canhan 2:33.40 8:45.38
15 Siyabonga Tyiki/Thando Ngamlana (U23) 2:39.23 8:48.46
16 Mzamo Zondi/Siyanda Gwamande 2:36.47 8:48.46
17 Mthobisi Cele/Nhlahla Cele 2:35.51 8:54.55
18 Shaun Griffin/Brandon Orpwood 2:37.58 8:58.17
19 Richard Cele/Mfaniseni Nyambose 2:37.30 8:59.17
20 Stuart Maclaren/Brandon van der Walt 2:39.07 9:00.48
1 Alan Houston/Andrew Houston 2:27.08 8:10.15
2 Mmeli Cele/Khumbulani Nzimande 2:30.04 8:33.13
3 Murray Haw/James Speed 2:31.50 8:40.17
1 Mpilo Zondi/Mark Keeling 2:48.32 9:37.11
2 Emanuel Zaloumis/Hamish Lovemore 2:51.46 9:56.01
3 Lethokuhle Luthuli/Mongezi Thusi 2:49.41 9:58.32
1 Warren Yoko/Craig Pitt 3:10.39 11:32.45
1 Abby Solms/Anna Kožíšková (CZE) 2:47.41 9:09.19
2 Tamika Haw/Alex Adie 2:52.25 9:42.22
3 Cana Peek/Kyeta Purchase (U18) 2:55.33 9:43.51
4 Jenna Ward/Vanda Kiszli (HUN) (U23) 3:03.56 9:50.02
5 Kelly Howe/Susan Carter-Brown 3:10.30 10:37.31
6 Jordan Peek/Kim Peek 3:23.40 11:40.05
7 Kerry Segal/Julia Trodd (U23) 3:25.25 11:45.24
8 Debra Lewis/Jessica Dicks 3:19.41 11:53.55
9 Lorna Oliver/Melissa van Rooyen 3:24.37 12:01.02
10 Donna Tutton/Hayley Nixon 3:19.00 12:03.50
1 Jenna Ward/Vanda Kiszli (HUN) 3:03.56 9:50.02
2 Kerry Segal/Julia Trodd 3:25.25 11:45.24
1 Cana Peek/Kyeta Purchase 2:55.33 9:43.51
2 Gemma Lawson/Brittany Eayrs 3:56.58 15.12.27
3 Jamie-Lee Robertson/Gina Forno 4:44.08 18.15.05