Canoeing flexed their muscles on the water on the opening day of their competition at the African Games and quickly put two medals on the board, writes GARY LEMKE.
They arrived for their three-day event at Dayet Erroumi, some 85 km outside the athletes village in Rabat where they are staying and competed in two events on the opening day of the code.
Louis Hattingh and Jarred Gibson, the 23- and 21-year-olds coached by Craig Mustard in Pietermarizburg, were Team SA’s only canoeists on the water on Wednesday but they chipped in with a gold medal in the K2 1000m, while Hattingh also claimed a solo silver in the K1 1000m.
In the K1 event, Hattingh renewed rivalry with the 29-year-old Tunisian Mohamed Mrabet, who had beaten the South African at the national championships in Shongweni. Both had been comfortable winners of their heats and in the final itself the two had the race to themselves from the start.
They powered down with little separating them, and eventually the Tunisian had a 1.57sec gap at the finish, with the Algerian Oussama Djabali taking the bronze medal but nearly 19 seconds behind Hattingh.
From there it was a quick turnaround to the K2 final, something which Gibson lamented.
‘That turnaround was less than ideal. In the morning we had around an hour between Louis’ K1 and our K2 and before the final it was some 40 minutes. That hardly allows any time for a warm-up; in fact we barely got to warm up. Louis hopped out of his boat at the end of the K1, had a bit of a rub-down, hopped back on with me and we raced down to the start.
‘The race itself was probably only memorable because we managed to win the gold medal for Team SA. It wasn’t a good race in the sense that it was so windy and Louis [sitting in front] had to take one leg out and push the kick stick to the side, because the whole way the boat was turning to the side because of wind.
‘That threw out our technique, which wasn’t good and the boat itself didn’t feel great, but we felt comfortable enough to power through to the finish.
‘We usually have a game plan but it’s hard to stick to one when everything is so disjointed, and the warm-up is virtually non-existent. There should normally be a couple of hours between races. And then we had no protection from the wind, despite having a middle lane,’ Gibson said.
However, it could be a case of came, saw and conquered, with the gold medal result being more important than the technical aspects of the performance.
‘At the recent U23 world championships we were both placed in the K1 A final and just missed out on the K2 final, but on that occasion Louis came into the race on a tough day where he had already competed in four races before the final, some 4,000m before the race. That left him with little gas in the tank.
‘At the senior world champs we were in the K2 again but didn’t do too well, although we learned a lot. The ambition remains to qualify for next year’s Olympics, but we’ll see how it goes,’ Gibson added.
Canoeing continues on Thursday with more medals on the cards and Gibson himself still has two more assignments: the K4 500m and on Friday he competes in the K2 200m, with Crisjan Coetzee.