Hamish Lovemore and Esti van Tonder both toppled the established giants of marathon paddling by winning the men’s and women’s titles at the SA Marathon Championships in St. Francis on Sunday.
The anchor event of the P.W. Harvey & Carey Olsen St. Francis Paddle Fest, the singles title deciders were contested in near perfect weather conditions on the canals and beach portages at St. Francis, in sharp contrast to the storms that disrupted first day’s events.
Lovemore, still an Under-23 paddler, was prominent in a four-way duel with eleven-time world champion Hank McGregor, rising Cape star Uli Hart and the evergreen Kenny Rice going into the final sprint finish.
McGregor gambled by opting for an extreme left hand line, hoping to find favourable currents in the canal, while Lovemore stayed right and fought a ding-dong sprint battle with fellow Under-23 paddler Hart, which he won by half a boat length.
McGregor had to settle for the small step on the podium, a rare occurrence in his illustrious career but heaped praise on his MacSquad training mate and doubles partner for winning the title.
While he has won major races before, he was quick to point out that this was by far the biggest achievement of his paddling career.
‘It feels so satisfying to finally feel like I have made a name for myself,’ he said, before heaping praise on his coach Lee McGregor for the impact that his new personalised training programme has had.
In the women’s blue ribbon K1 race defending champion Bridgitte Hartley and perennial marathon favourite Jenna Ward were made to sweat by sprinter Esti van Tonder and the much-talked-about schoolgirl sensation Saskia Hockly as the race entered its critical stage.
Hockly, who looked to threaten the loftier reaches of the senior podium, despite her 16 years of age, opted to stop early and settle for the junior title instead of staying on the water for another half an hour to challenge for senior honours, largely driven by a desire to bank energy for her K2 challenge with Ward on Monday.
With Hartley off the front bunch, that left Ward and Van Tonder to challenge for line honours, and Van Tonder showed her 200 metre sprinting prowess by powering away to deny Ward the national title, with Hartley making up the balance of the podium.
Michaelhouse stars Sam Butcher and Matt Millward swept the boards in the junior boys race in a total domination of the Under-18 category.