Berg River Marathon’s Oom Jannie still paddling at 84

Oom Jannie at Day 2 of this year’s Berg River Marathon

Oom Jannie at Day 2 of this year’s Berg River Marathon

Published Jul 6, 2024


Cape Town - At the age of 84 years, “Oom Jannie” Malherbe from George, a stalwart paddler at the Berg River Canoe Marathon has crossed the line for the 51st time, equalling the most number of finishes with his great friend, the late Giel van Deventer.

The Berg River Marathon was first held in 1962 which was the same year Oom Jannie, then 22, paddled his first Berg River canoe marathon finishing fourth and then won the next three years. Since then there has been no stopping as he is the oldest guy on the water.

He jokingly said he keeps going back at his age due to a “lack of intelligence”.

“It is something that gets into your blood even though I suffer for four days because I swim in the cold, there is fast water and slow water, there is wind but come to the end of the race it is very rewarding.

“Canoeing keeps you top fit. Three months after the race, I am already thinking about the next one, however, it is not about winning … or competing for me, because I won every age group in my life. I do it because I enjoy being fit and being out in nature while being active and every race is new, every year different.”

While he acknowledges his massive love affair with the race, he knows this year’s edition will be tinged with sadness for him after Van Deventer lost his life in 2022 on the Breede River.

“Giel and I were great friends. We paddled for years together and I used to stay at his home often. It will be an honour to top the Wall of Fame with Giel and it’s so sad he is unable to keep his record going.”

He said that when the canoe season is over, he enjoys walking and fishing.

He added that he was a member of the Springboks Canoe Team in 1967 who went to Europe as a long distance paddler and that he has 25 Fish River Canoe Marathons under his belt although his last race was three years ago.

The Berg River Canoe Marathon took place over four days from Wednesday to today with a total distance of 240km.

Day one kicked off from Paarl to Zonquasdrift, a distance of 62km, day two was from Zonquasdrift to Bridgetown (46km), day three from Bridgetown to Zoutkloof (75km) and day four is from Zoutkloof to Velddrif with the last 57km.

Tim Whitfield, media liaison for Berg River Marathon said that this year there were just over 100 entrants.

“This is one of the country’s major marathons and within the canoeing community there is definitely a certain status to being able to say you finished the Berg. It is almost certainly the toughest canoeing marathon in the country and to just finish you have to be both fit and have a large amount of good, old-fashioned So there is a huge sense of achievement to just finishing. To win it you have to be an exceptional athlete and the list of past winners reads like a who’s who of South African elite canoeing.

“Jannie Malherbe’s participation is a remarkable achievement. He was an elite athlete to win the event three times, but to be still taking part all these years later is simply unbelievable. It is easy to focus on the winners each year, but to have somebody who is 84 years old competing in the one of the country’s toughest sporting events, and finishing it year after year is simply remarkable,” said Whitfield.

Oom Jannie said that he doesn’t see himself hanging up his paddles any time soon and will keep going for as long as he can.

“As long as I’m healthy, I will keep going. When I finish last in the queue, then I know it will be time to give up,” he said.

Weekend Argus

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