DURBAN – After a slightly surprising day one at the Dusi Canoe Marathon, which saw the men’s and women’s favourites have to settle for second, day two saw parity return.
Consecutive five-time winner Andy Birkett caught up the 1minute 20seconds (1:20) gap over Sbonelo Khwela to finish on Inanda dam with a massive five-minute lead after Friday’s action.
In the women’s race, Christie Mackenzie managed to pip day two ahead of day one leader Tamika Haw, but by the slenderest of margins, riding Haw’s wake across the line.
It did not take Birkett long to slice off Khwela’s lead, as by the time the two had reached the Saddles portage, Birkett had almost erased the deficit with just 27 seconds separating the two.
At Gauging Weir, Khwela’s lead had all but been erased, and Birkett was on the charge.
“I just felt good today and got into a good rhythm nice and early,” the eight-time Dusi champion Birkett said.
“I must have caught up about 30 seconds in the first five minutes of the day. I kept on catching him through the rapids, not on the flats – which was quite surprising.
“The body felt good and I ran well on Nqumeni portage, and I surprised myself by how I managed to keep up with Sbonelo all the way.”
On the other side of Nqumeni was the infamous big three rapids. Thombi specifically has caught Birkett in the past, but this year, he managed the obstacles and paddled away from the chasing Khwela.
“I got a slight gap at Hippo and from there, I just put my head down and went hard to the finish,” he added.
As was to be hoped, with women’s paddling becoming more and more competitive, the Dusi race was intriguing as it was exciting seeing 2019 become one of the closest of modern times, with just two seconds separating Mackenzie and Haw.
It was an ongoing battle, with the two swapping the lead as two swims for Mackenzie let Haw back into the contest.
However, Haw showed her mettle to grind back on to the group, with Mackenzie on the Inanda Dam stretch to finish on her tail.
“I think I put a bit more pressure on myself today because I hoped that I would have more time on my hands by this stage before the race,” Mackenzie said.
“The pressure might have led to the swims, but when we were on Nqumeni, I just wanted to pace myself so I kept the same pace as Tamika the whole way.
“I just felt that I had to keep it together, and I am banking on tomorrow being my day!”
The marathon finished off today with a reverse start as the leaders will take off at the back of the pack seeing them come into Blue Lagoon around midday.
Birkett will feel comfortable, but knows a mistake could cost him, while Mackenzie and Haw will be on each others tails all day.
Men: Andy Birkett (2:58:27) 5:38:25, Sbonelo Khwela (3:04:48) 5:43:25, Thulani Mbanjwa (3:09:03) 5:53:15, David Evans (Under-18) (3:09:58) 5:58:18, Khumbulani Nzimande (3:10:08) 5:58:19, Andrew Houston (3:06:44) 5:58:19, Carl Folscher (3:07:50) 5:58:20, Alan Houston (Under-23) (3:08:51) 6:02:09, Stewart Little (Under-23) (3:07:16) 6:03:33, Mpilo Zondo (Under-23) (3:11:22) 6:04:45
Women: Christie Mackenzie (Under-23) (3:37:38) 6:59:32, Tamika Haw (3:38:12) 6:59:34, Jenna Ward (3:44:43) 7:19:23, Amy Peckett (Under-18) (3:47:09) 7:22:37, Nikki Birkett (3:50:58) 7:32:03@DarrynJack216