PIETERMARITZBURG – An emotional Hank McGregor paid homage to both the home crowd and his supporters after he led compatriot Andy Birkett to a South African one-two in the men’s K1 event at the ICF Canoe World Marathon Championships at Camps Drift on Saturday.
This is McGregor’s ninth World Championship gold medal, his seventh in a K1 and his fifth K1 win in five years to cement his position as at least the top marathon canoeist of his generation and possibly of all time.
“My dad once said to me I would realise what it is like to race in front of your son, and today I got that feeling,” said McGregor with tears in his eyes.
“My dad (Lee) is watching me on live streaming. He is somewhere in the middle of the hurricane, so thanks to dad for everything you have done for me and thanks to my family, my son and wife.
“This one is for my boy (Thorsten) – I am so glad he was watching me today. And a big thanks to the crowd, especially the guys on the opposite side of the bank. You kept us going.
“It is such a privilege and an honour to race for my country in my home town, and be able to win in front of my home crowd. This was something incredible.”
The result is a repeat of the 2016 World Championships in Germany, when McGregor also led Birkett over the line.
After close to 30km of racing, the wily McGregor worked himself into pole position at the front of a four-man group for the final 500m dash to the finish line, and then had the speed to keep his compatriot back on the wave as they battled it out on the final sprint for gold.
After two desperate attacks, and with less than 100m to go, Birkett realised he was not going over McGregor’s bow wave and settled back to come home just over half-a-boat length back and just ahead of the fast-finishing Hungarian Adrián Boros.
Portugal’s José Ramalho faded over the final 150m to just miss out on a medal.
The four leaders broke away from a big group of 10 paddlers on the final turn before the first portage, and from there, simply worked together to maintain a gap on the chasing bunch.
The quartet stayed together with a few half-hearted attempts at domination until the paddle up to the final turn which saw a series of big attacks, but nobody could get a decisive break.
McGregor was able to position himself to come off the final turn in the front and then hold that until Birkett launched his final sprint from far out, but could not get his nose over the wave and had to settle for second.
Birkett was full of praise for the man he beat at the South African Champs recently.
“Thank goodness we had four boats so we could a little bit of rest sometimes, but congratulations to Hank, he was superb today and he deserved to win – I gave it my all.”
The South African one-two pushed South Africa to second on the medal table with one gold, three silver and two bronze. Hungary top the table after three days of action with 16 medals, including eight golds.
Earlier, Lani Belcher unleashed an powerful final sprint 150m from the finish line to win going away from Hungarian Vanda Kiszli in the women’s event.
Ireland’s Jennifer Egan was left trailing in third after being dropped on the final portage one kilometre from the finish.