For the second weekend running, the waters of KwaZulu-Natal’s Nagle Dam are set to be churned up by South Africa’s top canoeists, all looking to claim the coveted national titles on offer at the SA Sprint Championships.
Last weekend’s SA Sprint Trial dished up some world class performances that showed the depth of talent in the country across the senior and junior ranks. The fast times made for uplifting reading, and the paddlers, administrators and spectators left with an air of optimism and excitement for the next three years leading up to the London 2012 Olympic Games. The Trial weekend allowed the elite paddlers to focus on their individual K1 racing in a quest for selection for the national touring squads.
This weekend will see the paddlers enter as many races as possible, and mix up partnerships with their contemporaries in an attempt to win as many medals as possible across the K1, K2, K4 and C1 classes. The SA Championships will be held over three days, with the 1000m events taking place on Saturday, the 500m events on Sunday and the 200m races on Monday. The longer distance 5000m races will be spread across the Saturday and Sunday.
There is a strong KZN entry across all age groups, headlined by sprint specialists Mike Arthur and Cam Schoeman. World marathon and Dusi champion Ant Stott will also be hoping for some success on the flat water, although his focus this year is on the longer races. Despite admitting to being slightly underprepared, Olympian Carol Joyce will also be hoping for medals, particularly in the K2 with Jen Hodson, and K4 races. ‘We came away from last weekend really inspired by the racing and the set-up, and the infrastructure in place for the next few years is excellent for the sport,’ says Joyce.
KZN’s strong junior structures will also be looking to reap rewards, where Stu MacLaren, Gregor Martin and Matt Shaw provide tough competition in the Under-18 boy’s races, and Under-16’s Emma Horner and Kerry Segal always race beyond their years.
The country’s top male and female sprinters are Gauteng-based, and if their success last weekend is any indication, Shaun Rubenstein and Bridgitte Hartley will be strong favourites for the Victor and Victrix Ludorum awards.
Hartley will be pushed all the way by fellow Olympian Jen Hodson – the two have had a see-saw rivalry over the past two years, although Hartley’s greater sprint focus at the moment will surely count in her favour. ‘I had an excellent five-week training camp in Port Edward in February and March, which has given me a good base. Last weekend went well and I’m looking forward to more at the SA Champs,’ said Hartley. KZN paddler Tiffany Kruger will partner her in the K2 events.
Rubenstein will have to guard against trying to do too many races, and staying fresh enough to give each event his best. Junior boys Martin van den Bergh and Frans Smit will look to build on last weekend’s success, while Esti van Tonder will be hoping to move up the podium from her third place finishes at the SA Trial.
The Western Cape juniors are also their province’s major strength, where 2008 Western Province Junior Sportswoman of the year Melanie van Niekerk will renew her rivalry for gold medals with Horner. Chrisjan Coetzee, who had a brilliant K1 500m win last weekend, will be hoping for more of the same, while the Eastern Cape’s Greg Louw will be holding his province’s hopes in the senior men’s category.
New spectators at the event will be interested to watch the C1 races, where canoeists kneel in narrow boats and use a one-sided paddle. Twenty-year-old Olympian Calvin Mokoto will the favourite in these events, but pushed hard by Radek Olszewski.
There will also be a number of hotly contested ‘elder’ races involving the competitive Grand-Masters, Sub-Grand-Masters, Masters and Veterans. Racing begins each day at Nagle Dam at 9am.