DURBAN - Led by a bloodied Hank McGregor, South Africa grabbed another two medals on the final day of the ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships at Camps Drift in Pietermaritzburg to end up second overall on the medal table.
Saturday’s K1 men’s winner, sporting a large cut above his left eye from a clash of paddles, and partner Jasper Mocké claimed the gold in the final event of the championships to give the 2015 World Paddler of the Year his 10th World Championship title and ensure he completed the K1 and K2 double for the third time.
“It hasn’t quite sunk in yet to be honest,” said the Durban star. “I was never going for anything like this and to even win one world title is something special, but to win 10 is incredible.
“To win it here in front of the home fans with Jasper was special, and it rounded off a fantastic week for me with my family here. The South African public always knew that we were good but to watch to happen first-hand will hopefully encourage people to get into paddling.
“I think that somewhere along the line someone has been inspired to pick up a pair of paddles and give it a go. It’s really hard racing with the K2’s travelling at 22km per hour in shallow water, but you can’t get flustered and have to just roll with the punches.”
McGregor and Mocké produced a potent finish sprint to claim their victory, but behind them, in a bizarre photo-finish for second, the Hungarian pair of Adriá Boros and László Solti celebrated their second position before crossing the line.
That allowed South Africa’s second boat of Pietermaritzburg local Andy Birkett and 18-year-old Michaelhouse schoolboy Jean van der Westhuyzen to finish, just centimetres back in third.
The top three were almost identical to the 2016 finish order when McGregor and Mocké beat Boros and Solti with Birkett and his then partner Louis Hattingh third. This win is also the third time the McGregor/Mocke and Boros/Solti combinations have shared the top two positions with the Hungarians winning in 2015 and grabbing silver last year.
There was nothing easy about the final event of the championships with a massive group of boats jostling in a testosterone-laden bunch for the first lap until things broke apart and there were finally seven boats left halfway through the second lap as the paddlers headed for the first portage.
That became five when the Hungarians were dropped just before the first portage and their hopes of a medal looked to be fading away as they slipped to more than 30 seconds behind the lead group. But, in an incredible show of power paddling, the Hungarian duo hauled themselves back into contention on lap six.
From there it was a tight tactical battle until the final portage where, as with the K1 race on Saturday, McGregor and Birkett led the race to the water and then held the two lead positions through the top turn and into the final sprint for glory.