2019 Dusi Canoe Marathon winner Andy Birkett and second place Sbonelo Khwela embrace at the finish at Blue Lagoon in Durban. Photo: Motshwari Mofokeng/ANA
2019 Dusi Canoe Marathon winner Andy Birkett and second place Sbonelo Khwela embrace at the finish at Blue Lagoon in Durban. Photo: Motshwari Mofokeng/ANA
Christie Mackenzie crosses the finish at Blue Lagoon in Durban ahead of Tamika Haw to win the 2019 Dusi Canoe Marathon women's race. Photo: Motshwari Mofokeng/ANA
Christie Mackenzie crosses the finish at Blue Lagoon in Durban ahead of Tamika Haw to win the 2019 Dusi Canoe Marathon women's race. Photo: Motshwari Mofokeng/ANA

DURBAN – With Andy Birkett taking his ninth Dusi winners’ medal, there were no surprises, but it was the women’s race that was an exciting event with a sprint finish seeing Christie Mackenzie just scraping through ahead of Tamika Haw.

The women’s race was always going to be a tight tussle into Durban with neither Mackenzie nor Haw giving an inch. The pair continued to match each other stroke-for-stroke right to the line where Mackenzie won a thrilling end sprint.

“It was a pretty nerve-wracking day for me to be honest,” winner Mackenzie exclaimed. “Before the stage, I told myself that I needed to keep it conservative and avoid making mistakes because I had made so many in the first two days. I couldn’t get my splash cover on at Tops Needle and so I started to panic but after that, I managed to calm down.”

The portage up and over Burma Road was set to be a major decider in the contest for a maiden title between the two and it turned out that neither wanted to budge and they couldn’t be separated until the final few metres.

“I have never run up Burma Road so hard in my whole life,” Mackenzie added. “When we put in on the other side I was absolutely buggered and knew that I had to stay with Tamika because there wasn’t a lot left in the tank.

Mackenzie’s marathon prowess came to the fore at the death when she had to take on Haw in a flat end sprint and the Under 23 star believed that should it come down to it she would have the upper hand.

“Having an end sprint with her yesterday meant that I was fairly confident that I could pull it off today. I just wanted to make sure that I was pulling coming into the finish and I got myself in a good position at the end,” a relieved Mackenzie said.

In the men’s race, Birkett managed to waltz home to his ninth title, but Sbonelo Khwela showed his worth as he managed to turn his day two five-minute gap into just one minute at the end of the race in Blue Lagoon. However, he may have been fortunate to take advantage of illness from Birkett.

“This year’s race dished out the hurt for me and last night I was man-down at about one o’clock and this last day was really hard work for me,” Birkett said.

“I just tried to keep the momentum going today and I am sure that Sbonelo made up time on me on the flat section coming into the finish, and I won’t lie I am happy to get to Durban and not suffering on the river anymore.”

@DarrynJack216

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