The final day of The Unlimited Dusi canoe marathon saw both heroics and heartbreak for the leading men as Lance Kime raced his way to his maiden victory in the three-day journey from Pietermaritzburg to Durban whilst the winner of both the first and second stages, Sbonelo Zondi, watched his fairytale go up in smoke as he had to settle for third.
Having started a minute and eight seconds apart Zondi and Kime swapped positions three times throughout the day with Zondi poised to become the first ever black paddler to win a K1 title in the race’s history.
It wasn’t to be though as he watched his slender lead slip away when a rare error at the daunting Pumphouse rapid saw him take a devastating swim and left the door open for Kime to surge into the lead for the third and decisive time.
Kime capitalised and with just 12 kilometres to go he managed to fend off a charging Hank McGregor, who also slipped past Zondi after his disappointing swim, and power home to a remarkable victory.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be in this position,” said Kime shortly after crossing the line. ÔÇ£I’ve been working really hard and have probably done the most tripping on the river before Dusi that I ever have and it all just paid off!
“The support, SMSes and tweets that I have received over the last few days, especially the last 24 hours, with everyone saying to me ‘you can do it’. I didn’t really believe I could do it until everyone told me I could!ÔÇØ
Kime worked hard across the short stretch across Inanda dam at the start of the day to close the gap between himself and Zondi to just 12 seconds by the time the pair got to the bottom of Tops Needle rapid.
Once Kime hauled Zondi in he worked hard to maximise his lead going into the Burma Road portage. However the world-class running abilities of Zondi saw him surge back to the front of field at the top of Burma Road with a little over a minute and a half separating the two.
ÔÇ£It was a real roller-coaster ride,ÔÇØ explained Kime. ÔÇ£I knew that he was going to be unbelievably strong on Burma Road, so I had to do everything I could to make up time before that and after that, because I knew even if I had a lead going into the hill, he would probably put in with the lead.
ÔÇ£When I got to the top of Burma Road, he had run from 20 seconds behind me to nearly two minutes ahead, and that was a lot of time to make up on one hill!
ÔÇ£I knew that it was going to be a very, very tough task to catch him by the finish, but you always keep that hope in the back of your mind. After all it’s the Dusi and you I knew there was still Pumphouse (Weir and rapid).
ÔÇ£We saw it three years ago with Ant Stott and Michael Mbanjwa’s race ending there. I knew it was possible that something could happen there. Then there’s also Mango and Dog’s leg rapids. There are always little chances of slip-ups, so I carried on hard.ÔÇØ
ÔÇ£When I saw him swimming in the pool, right at the bottom of the rapid I paddled over his boat. It was really heart-breaking for him, but, at the same time, I got probably the biggest adrenalin rush of my life. Suddenly I was paddling into the lead of the Dusi on the third day with only flat water to go!ÔÇØ
Kime’s effort was both a stage record and an overall race record, the second and third records, of a possible four, to have fallen in the men’s race this year.
ÔÇ£I don’t think I would have gone anywhere near the record if it hadn’t been for the competition this year,ÔÇØ said Kime. ÔÇ£I had it in the back of my mind when I took the lead today. I wondered if we’re near the record because we had a good full river today, especially coming into Durban. It was a lot higher than we expected at Blue Lagoon.
ÔÇ£I think I got the record purely because of the final kilometre. I paddled faster than I have in my life. It was probably the loudest crowd that I have ever had in my life and that just pushed me to a whole new level.”
Zondi’s error at Pumphouse cost him crucial time that not only saw Kime go past him but with a waterlogged boat and his pumps failing he was then forced to stop at Mango rapid, allowing double world marathon champ and Team Best 4 Kayak Centre captain Hank McGregor through as well.
Zondi, a product of the Change a Life Academy, tried desperately to hang onto McGregor’s wave but the young star’s efforts were no match for the rejuvenated 35-year-old legend of paddling who powered away after Kime.
ÔÇ£I managed to close over a minute on Lance (Kime) across the dam. I shot Tops Needle from the top and as I was exiting Tops Needle I could see the two orange lifejackets in front of me and I knew I was about a minute and 20 seconds behind them (Kime and Zondi)ÔÇØ said McGregor.
ÔÇ£I managed to close the gap even more and at the Burma Road takeout I was about 45 seconds behind. I had decided I was going around (Burma Road) and I was praying for water. I came into the first pool and the water wasn’t moving and I realised the water had gone. We’d run out of water and I knew I was going to lose time having chosen to paddle rather than portage. It was just a matter of trying to keep my head together.
ÔÇ£I managed to get through Island One cleanly, but Island Two was huge. It ate me for breakfast! Somehow I managed to pop out and stay in my boat though which was all I wanted to do!
ÔÇ£When I came around Burma Road, I found out I was five minutes behind. I promise you it’s like someone dropping a ton of bricks on your head. I had worked so hard to try to catch these guys and made up so much time, put in so much effort and now I was five minutes behind them (Kime and Zondi).
ÔÇ£I looked behind and saw Andrew Birkett putting in 300 metres behind me and I it was like ‘oh my word, race on’!ÔÇØ When I came past Eric (Zondi) and saw he was swimming I felt for him but I then tried to put my head down and catch Lance but it was just too far.
“He (Kime) deserves it though ÔÇô he’s a champion! These guys are the future of our sport!ÔÇØ
Having watched victory slip from his grasp a disappointed Zondi settled for third place, still a remarkable effort and one which has signalled his arrival to the big stage of river marathon racing in South Africa.
ÔÇ£All I can say is that I’m still very very happy to be on the podium today,ÔÇØ said Zondi. ÔÇ£When I got to Pumphouse, I relaxed but when I got to the bottom I didn’t raise my paddle and it got stuck underneath the water. My paddle was full of water when I tried to pull it up and that’s why I swam.
“My boat went through to under the bridge. I thought that maybe my race was over, but I didn’t give up because the crowd was shouting. I ran along the bank to see if my boat was broken.
When I got to my boat I saw it was full of water. I tried to pump but I had to stop to empty. Before I could empty my boat, I saw Hank coming and I tried to hang onto his wave but I had to laugh because this guy is a machine and he just put the hammer down.
ÔÇ£Then I had to keep pushing though because I knew Andy (Birkett) was coming up behind me and I wanted to do my best to still finish on the podium.ÔÇØ
Birkett, after technical difficulties and a swim at Thombi rapid on day two, had to settle for fourth with valley icon Thulani Mbanjwa finishing fifth.
Kime also claimed the Under-23 title with his Team Best 4 Kayak Centre team mate, Birkett, in second and Siseko Ntondini finishing third.
Final results (stage time and overall time)
1 Lance Kime (U23) 2:15.38 8:00.29
2 Hank McGregor 2:17.43 8:04.38
3 Sbonelo Zondi 2:22.07 8:05.50
4 Andy Birkett (U23) 2:19.58 8:09.17
5 Thulani Mbanjwa 2:20.46 8:13.11
6 Ant Stott 2:27.25 8:27.52
7 Jason Graham 2:23.45 8:28.44
8 Cam Schoeman 2:26.02 8:30.59
9 Jacques Theron 2:23.43 8:34.40
10 Zonele Nzuza 2:26.48 8:36.46
11 Siseko Ntondini (U23) 2:25.29 8:38.41
12 Loveday Zondi 2:28.45 8:38.42
13 James Speed (U23) 2:21.40 8:38.47
14 Gavin Shuter (U23) 2:25.53 8:39.06
15 Shaun Rubenstein 2:25.03 8:42.00
16 Lucas Mthalane 2:25.08 8:42.00
17 Mmeli Cele (U23) 2:24.04 8:43.18
18 Murray Starr (U23) 2:30.15 8:43.36
19 Travis Wilson (U18) 2:30.23 8:43.36
20 Nhlanhla Cele 2:25.46 8:44.38
1 Lance Kime 2:15.38 8:00.29
2 Andy Birkett 2:19.58 8:09.17
3 Siseko Ntondini 2:25.29 8:38.41
1 Travis Wilson 2:30.23 8:43.36
2 Damon Stamp 2:32.22 8:51.44
3 Tyler Wilson 2:36.38 9:14.08