DURBAN – Andy Birkett turned the tables on reigning marathon canoeing world champion Hank McGregor by winning the men’s K1 title at the SA Marathon Champs at Camps Drift yesterday in a thrilling showdown between the top two ranked marathon paddlers in the world.
The blue ribbon event saw Birkett and McGregor racing much of the latter part of the race with Czech national team paddler Jakub Adam and Cape-based Stu Maclaren, before the closing lap developed into a cliffhanger end sprint between Birkett and McGregor.
Birkett managed to get the edge over McGregor to power to the finish in an electric atmosphere to win by two boat lengths, with a dogged Adam taking a close third.
The result ensures that Birkett and McGregor will represent South Africa at the ICF World Marathon Champs at the same venue in a months’ time.
The opposite was true of the women’s race where Bridgitte Hartley’s single-minded focus on marathon training saw her demolish the women’s field to win by eight minutes, with the Western Cape Melanie van Niekerk securing the second berth in the national team.
Former junior K2 world champ Jean van der Westhuysen showed he is managing the transition to Under-23 racing well when he raced a tactically astute race to down the challengers Nick Notten, Kenny Rice and Mark Keeling.
Kyeta Purchase also asserted herself impressively in her women’s’ U-23 race and secured her place in the national team with runner-up Kerry Segal.
Gauteng-born Alex Masina, now training at NCC in Pietermaritzburg, ruled the juniors boys fast-paced K1 race with an iron fist, subduing the local challengers in a race that saw U-16 emerging stars Uli Hart and Hamish Mackenzie driving the front bunch with Stuart Little.
The attention shifts to K2 racing on Sunday when the full programme of races cover aspirant paddlers from Under-8 Guppies to the Great Great Grand Masters vying for national titles and places in the national team to the World Champs in September.