Durban – New Dusi canoe race champion Sbonelo Zondi was delighted to have ended his long wait for the title after capturing the 2014 crown with Andy Birkett in Durban on Saturday.
The pre-race favourites won in emphatic fashion after another commanding display during stage three between Inanda Dam and Blue Lagoon, capping a largely one-sided 63rd edition of the world famous race.
Zondi was especially pleased due to his failure to win the K1 or singles classification 12 months ago after falling out of his boat towards the end of the race, which alternates with K2 or doubles each year.
“This is a dream come true for me,” Zondi said after crossing the line.
“I'm so happy because the wait is over and I can't even express how pleased I am today.
“I tried my best last year and we all know what happened. So to have finally done it is a major relief.”
The winners finished in an overall time of seven hours, 43
minutes and 50 seconds.
Zondi, who burst onto the scene along with former K2 partner Thulani Mbanjwa a few years earlier, has been a contender ever since.
Mbanjwa became the first black paddler to take the title when he won alongside Dusi legend Martin Dreyer back in 2008 with the new champion the second after him.
However, Zondi, who came third in 2013, is determined to go one better than Mbanjwa and make history next year, but expects a strong challenge from some of his colleagues that are coming through.
“I think a black rower will win soon because if you look at the top seven or eight teams this year six (out of the 16) were black.
“So expect a strong race from the guys next year.
“Also, if you look back at last year, I was on top of the race for most of it, until I took that fall in the last stage.
“If I didn't swim, victory was very possible and I'll be back next year to give it a shot. I am determined to win the K1 race as well.”
He has tipped Kwanda Mhlophe, Zonele Nzuza and Lucas Mthalane to challenge, along with Mbanjwa.
His partner Birkett, a three-time former winner, was also pleased to have won after he also took a fall last year when he ended fourth.
“The whole journey has been amazing and I'm super chuffed,” Birkett said.
“Especially with our discipline over this last year - and it's a really special feeling to have won.
“Sbonelo was excellent and we're pleased to have done it together. I hope we can paddle again together in two years and keep up our partnership.”
Three-time world marathon champion Hank McGregor and partner Jasper Mocke came a distant second in an overall time of 7:53.59, while Cam Schoeman and Czech rowing star Adam Jakub finished third in 8:10.09. – Sapa