Graeme Solomon is one of the greats of the Berg River Canoe Marathon.
The evergreen paddler claimed line honours for the first time in 2001 at the age of 28 and finished second seven times and has 11 podium finishes in total from his 18 Berg events.
It is an amazing set of returns and for sure he’ll be gunning for another top-three finish, and possibly another victory if there is some decent rain over the next few days.
The 56th edition of the 240km four-day paddling epic from Paarl to Velddrif takes place from July 13-16. Race organisers are still mulling over alternate routes for the four stages, and will make a call in the next couple of days.
Solomon, 44, would have chalked up more victories had defending champion Hank McGregor not owned proceedings for several years.
McGregor is the defending champion, but the Durbanite’s decision not to go for a 11th title overall has paved the way for Solomon (pictured right) to gun for glory again. Hank’s absence brings a whole new dimension to the race,” said Solomon. “From my side, I’ve prepared for the race, albeit slightly less than usual and line honours with a new boat perhaps hinging on how much it rains before the official race start on Wednesday.
“Right now there is not much of a river to speak of, with water levels very low - as I’ve found out tripping various sectors recently, reminiscent of conditions in 2003.
“That year still lingers in my mind.
“The race was there to be won by me, but for no water in the dams on the third stage, which ultimately sank my challenge.
“My main contenders Jacques Theron (the eventual winner) and Len Jenkins were lighter than me and could stay in their boats navigating dam sand banks and other unforeseen obstacles, whereas I had no choice but to portage more times than I care to remember, and ended up losing valuable time. Those memories are still fresh in my mind - especially now that familiar conditions have resurfaced.
“Now if all goes well, maybe I can deliver another win for the Cape, a feat only achieved twice in the last 15 years.”
This is a race that has been dominated in the main by outsiders over the past two decades, with McGregor leading the charge in no uncertain terms.
In the early years it was the locals who dominated.
Nollie Meiring won the inaugural race in 1962, and then Jannie Malherbe owned the field for the next three edition, before Paul Chalupsky - the father of Oscar Chalupsky - briefly ended the Cape’s grip on proceedings in 1966. His other son Herman took line honours in 1986.
From 1967 onwards it was one victory after another for the Capetonians, with the likes of Roelof van Riet (two wins) and his brother Willem (1971) adding their names to the honours board, with two-time winner André Collins, three-time champ Sunley Uys and Stefan Hugo, who triumphed for the fifth and final time in 1984.
From then on it was the out-of-towners who won the majority of races, with Gautenger Robert Herreveld the lead act.
He won six in a row from 1991 to 96 to become King of the Berg. Michael Cheeseman claimed a hat-trick of wins after that to keep the title up north, before McGregor clinched his first win.
Solomon struck next and from then on McGregor became an unmatched force, before Lance King broke his duck in 2013 in the absence of the defending champ.
KwaZulu-Natal’s Andy Birkett edged Solomon to win in 2014, before McGregor, who skipped again, returned to the fold and claimed back-to-back victories.
Now for Solomon to strike a pose and deny a strong foreign contingent a first-ever win.
“Without trying to sound arrogant, I feel I am the only local paddler able to match and beat the internationals spearheaded by Hungary’s Adrián Boros, who finished third on debut last year, and Czech Republic’s Petr Mojíek, who competes for a second time and will be aiming to improve on last year’s sixth-place finish,” said Solomon.
Popular Giel van Deventer will be lining up for his 48th Berg at the age of 67.