The entries had hardly opened for the 53rd edition of the tough Berg River Canoe Marathon from Paarl to Velddrif from 16 to 19 July when the die-hards started to book their places on the start line. One sure fact though, is the man who has dominated the race in the new millennium, Hank McGregor, will not be contesting the four day classic this year.
The Durban-based Marathon World Champion has cleared his diary in July as he and his wife Pippa are expecting their first child around that time and for McGregor, who has achieved just about everything there is to achieve in the sport, nothing will keep him away from the arrival of his first child.
“The Berg is important to me, but I will definitely be at home this year for the birth of my first child,” confirmed McGregor. “It is something that only happens once or twice in your life – hopefully – so I don’t want to miss out on the moment.”
McGregor missed the Berg last year as he and a handful of the country’s top surfski paddlers opted to travel to the International Canoe Federation’s first ever surfski world championships, eventually won by Capetonian Sean Rice, leaving Lance King to clinch his maiden Berg title.
After winning the junior title, McGregor went on to win the race outright in 2000, and claimed a further eight titles in succession from 2005 to 2012, making him the race’s most prolific champion ever and bettering Robbie Hereveld’s record of six consecutive titles in the eighties.
McGregor, who grew up in the Cape and was inspirited to race on the river by early childhood memories of watching the Berg River Canoe Marathon, went on to claim the K1 Marathon Junior World Championship title, and the senior title three times.
Last month McGregor won the gruelling Molokai Challenge title for a second time, out-muscling Australian legend Clint Robinson over the 52 kilometres of the island crossing in brutally tough and windless conditions.
While McGregor admits that he will miss not preparing for and racing the Berg this year, he still holds out hopes that he will be able to return to target a record-extending tenth title in the race.
“The Berg is a tradition and it will always be there, so I am sure I will be back to do another, probably next year, hopefully with a slightly bigger support crew “, said McGregor.
“But the issue of winning ten Bergs comes up often in conversation,” he added. “Strangely enough it doesn’t mean that much to me but it seems to mean a lot to other people.”
“If I never win another Berg again, it will be enough to have won one Berg,” he added.
The Berg River Canoe marathon starts in Paarl on 16 July and ends at Velddrif on 19 July. More information can be found at www.berg.org.za