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Shaun, Bridgitte star

The national K1 Marathon Championships saw no less than three brilliant endsprints to the finish line on Saturday. The highlight was the stunning senior men’s race, where the top four boats finished within two seconds of each other.

South African sprint ace and 2006 K1 World Marathon champion Shaun Rubenstein took the line honours to claim the most closely contested national title in years.

After the first lap there was a strong four-boat breakaway in the men’s race, with Rubenstein, Hank McGregor, Len Jenkins and Ant Stott all taking turns to take up the pull, and looking for any chance to edge each other off the bunch. None of them showed any weakness though and the four musketeers used the seven laps to put some distance between them and the chasing bunch.

Jenkins even overcame an incident on the final portage where he dropped his boat, but he managed to catch the lead bunch and put in a massive effort on the line to take the silver medal.

“It was a very competitive race and at no time could anyone be confident that they could win. The other three guys are all class athletes so it was very tactical. I’m so pleased my final portage was good and I had the speed to win on the line,” said the Gauteng champion afterwards.

K1 World Champion in 2003, Hank McGregor was third and Dusi champion and reigning K2 World Champion Ant Stott fourth. 2007 World Junior Champion Grant van der Walt had a terrible start to the race, but managed to work his
back into fifth place ahead of Lance King who was sixth. The quality of the field was unparalleled and the racing lived up to the highest standards.

The women’s race was a two-boat event from early on, as sprint champion Bridgitte Hartley and fellow Olympian Michele Eray broke away together from the start. The two worked together for all six laps, and it was inevitable that an endsprint would decide the winner. Hartley┬╣s superior power pulled her ahead of Eray and she was ecstatic to take the win.

“I knew I needed a good final portage because Michele was stronger on those than me. But once I got back on the water I was confident I could win,”said Hartley afterwards. It was the first SA Marathon title for the sprint star and she was happy to overcome the unfamiliar. “I was quite nervous at the start because marathons are not very familiar for me and I didn┬╣t know what to expect.”

Well one thing she can expect is a trip with the national squad to Portugal in September for the World Marathon Championships. U23 paddlers Robyn Kime and Abby Adie were third and fourth, five minutes behind the leaders.

The Junior Boys race also ended in a dramatic final sprint, with Gauteng prot├®g├®e Brandon van der Walt taking line honours ahead of Murray Burgess. The two had managed to break away early on in their race, and finished over two minutes ahead of the chasing bunch.

The Junior girls race resulted in a more clear cut finish, with KwaZulu-Natal U16 paddler Kerry Segal taking the win almost a minute ahead of Gauteng’s Kerry Malan. Western Cape sprinter Melanie van Niekerck was third a further minute behind.

Race conditions were tough throughout the day, with the low tide and gusting wind throwing in another dimension to the competition. The Keurbooms River gorge protected the field for most of the time, but they had to deal with random headwinds and tailwinds, as well as sand banks and shallow water.

National marathon Chairman Malcolm Stothard was delighted with the day’s results. “We had to move the portage for the final race because of the sandbanks, but it was a fantastic day of racing, and there was great support throughout,” he said afterwards.