Flood conditions triggered by the heavy rainfall that battered Gauteng the Free State last week saw the 2016 South African K2 River Marathon Championships contested on a swollen Vaal River on the past weekend with paddlers enjoying some long-forgotten big water conditions as the KwaZulu-Natal pair of Clinton Cook and Thomas Lovemore took home the national honours and Morgan Ziervogel and Holly Spencer wrapped up the ladies win.
The torrential rains that have ravaged parts of the Highveld over the last week were a blessing in disguise for the paddlers who have battled with drought conditions for an extended period of time, and it meant that paddlers were going to have to keep their wits about them on a big river.
The opening stage of the race started at the Cote de Val River and Lifestyle Estate and took the paddlers 37km to the Smilin Thru Resort for the overnight stop. The KZN duo of Cook and Lovemore got themselves ahead on day one but only held a slim two second advantage over the Gauteng pair of Siseko Ntondini and Wayne Jacobs while Siyabonga Tyiki and Thando Ngamlana were in third overnight.
Overnight floodwater sent the level of the river up more than two metres, making the planned final stage unpaddleable in racing kayaks, forcing the organisers to re-jig their plans for the second day of the marathon. They sent the field on a trough slog upriver into the 300 cubic metres per second flow before turning for the home leg to the finish at Likkewaan Canoe Club.
The slender overnight lead that Cook and Lovemore held came under some pressure from the chasing pair and in an extremely exciting race a sprint finish saw the overnight leaders just pip the Gauteng hopefuls to win the race by under a second.
With a small field at the race the ladies field was narrowed down with the Gauteng based pair of Morgan Ziervogel and Holly Spencer taking home the honours of South African K2 women’s champions and the only other woman in the field was Sneziwe Gxobole.
The mixed K2 race was going to be an interesting one however it was the experience of Piers and Shelly Cruickshanks that saw them across the line first ahead of Ben Bradford and Natasha Bulbring by nine minutes and Roger and Kate Stubbs coming home in third to round off the mixed podium.
Despite finishing in third overall, Ngamlana and Tyiki were the fastest Under 23 boat over the two days handing them the age group title with David Rodrigues and Nicholas Weeks finishing second and Colin Ledwaba and Katiso Hlahatsi claiming third in the Under 23 contest.
In what was an inspired paddle the first Under 18 boat of Liam Stewart and Alex Masina, finished in fifth overall, just one second behind Rodrigues and Weeks in fourth. The junior pair lead two Soweto crews, Xolisa Gxobole and Zanenhlanhla Mbala in second and Wongama Makhasi and Sinenhlanhla Ludidi in third, across the line.
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1.Clinton Cook/Thomas Lovemore 3:03.13
2.Wayne Jacobs/Siseko Ntondini 3:03.14
3.Thando Ngamlana/Siyabonga Tyiki (U23) 3:04.50
1.Morgan Ziervogel/Holly Spencer (U23) 3:39.55
Under 23 Men
1.Thando Ngamlana/Siyabonga Tyiki 3:04.50
2.David Rodrigues/Nicholas Weeks 3:10.53
3.Colin Ledwaba/Katiso Hlahatsi 3:16.56
Under 18 Boys
1.Liam Stewart/Alex Masina 3:10.54
2.Xolisa Gxobole/Zanenhlanhla Mbala 3:27.48
3.Wongama Makhasi/Sinenhlanhla Ludidi 3:37.27
1.Piers Cruickshanks/Shelly Cruickshanks 3:21.59
2.Ben Bradford/Natasha Bulbring 3:30:03
3.Roger Stubbs/Kate Stubbs 3:46.25
Images: Jennie Dallas/Gameplan Media