Durban — For stalwart canoeing official John Oliver, more women and less “goats” due to polluted water are the good and bad of being involved in canoeing administration for over 40 years.
Last week it was announced that the Dusi Canoe Marathon would honour the loyal administrator by naming a new series the John Oliver Dusi Series. For Oliver, the decision was humbling and unexpected, but led him to reflect on some of the changes he has seen in the sport since he first became interested in canoeing in “1978 or 1979”.
“There's quite a lot of things that have changed, but the one thing that has been really great over the last 10 years is the increase in the number of women and girls paddling,” said Oliver from his smallholding in KZN where he still lives after his wife and timekeeping partner, Margie, passed away in 2010.
“I know Margie would have been absolutely delighted with the way that’s gone – that was really important to her. With schools such as Epworth, (Wykeham) Collegiate and St Anne’s offering canoeing, the increased number of women and girls has been dramatic. At all levels of competition, the number of women competing has been much greater than it used to be.
“I can remember going to a SA Sprint Champs in Pretoria where four women were taking part. Now, for SA Schools we have two or three heats in all of the girls’ age groups.
“The worst thing I have seen over the past years is the dwindling numbers, which is driven, in my opinion, by the dirty water and the inability of the authorities … to maintain river health… ”
The popular official, who is well-known for his huge flowing beard, believes canoeists are a bunch of independently-minded individuals and likens them to the goats he has on his smallholding.
“I've always said the interesting thing about canoeists is that there are no sheep. They’re all goats. They are all independently minded, which brings its own problems but does keep life interesting for officials.
“I think I started canoeing in 1978 or 79 – I cannot remember exactly. My brother-in-law, GV Price, decided he was going to do the Dusi and I went to watch it with my good mate Peter Bassett. The following year Peter phoned me up and said ‘Let’s do the Dusi!’
“We went to visit Ernie Pearce who was the Dusi boss at the time and after about 10 minutes, the family had arranged a boat and booked us in to do the event.
“I became an official almost immediately. We had just started paddling and I went up to Henley Dam to watch some sprint events. Within seconds I was given a stopwatch and told to ‘sit on the finish line and time one of the lanes’,” and so he took his first steps on the journey to being in charge of the timekeeping, first in KZN and now for Canoeing South Africa.
“We have gone through four major changes in timing systems since I have been involved.
“The first system we used was a DOS-based thing and we went to races carrying a generator and an old XT computer. Then Edwin Lumgair, the son of a paddler, who used to come and help us with the timekeeping when he was still at school, went on to do a computer degree at university. His honours project was transferring the canoeing timing program into a Windows-based system.
“Then we moved on to to a web-based database for all the paddlers. The timing programme itself was still a machine-based programme and we would access the data online, but the entries were all done on the computer.
“Now with the current system the entries, including the financial part of it, are based off the Canoeing SA website and we download the entries into whatever computers are being used for the timing, and then load the information back up to the website.”
Naming the new series The John Oliver Dusi Series was a huge surprise for Oliver.
“I was extremely humbled and I didn’t expect anything like that. Dusi Committee chairman Steve Botha phoned me up and said the club ‘wanted to name something after you and we’d rather not wait until you’re dead’,” said Oliver with a hearty laugh.
“It’s wonderful and the support from people since it was announced is absolutely fantastic. It is not the sort of thing that I’m looking for, but it’s a wonderful experience – although it is almost embarrassing.”
The John Oliver Dusi Series will consist of five events culminating in the Dusi, which takes place from February 15 – 17. The other events are the Ozzie Gladwin on January 14; the SMG 50 Miler on January 20; Inanda Dam to Durban on January 21; and Campbells to Dusi Bridge on February 4. | Gameplan Media
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