Andy Birkett completed a flawless final stage of the N3TC Drak Challenge canoe marathon on Sunday afternoon to extend his unbroken winning streak at the uMzimkhulu classic to nine consecutive victories.
Racing in cool overcast conditions, in sharp contrast to Saturday’s sweltering heat, Birkett used his accumulated knowledge of the river to master the demanding technical medium- level river conditions and race away alone to win by more than two minutes from a charging Under 23 world champ, Hamish Lovemore, who vaulted past Under 23 winner Matt Fenn.
“It was such an awesome race this year,” said the race winner. “It was such a great level, with enough water to get down everything.
“It was chilly today, in contrast to the conditions we had on the first day,” the modest East London world champ added.
The win extends his record as the race’s most successful male paddler and now draws him level with Abby Solms, whose nine wins in the women’s division made her the race’s most successful elite athlete.
Lovemore wrapped up the silver medal, marking his return to the popular race for the first time since 2019, while Fenn was full value for his podium finish. Hank McGregor finished fourth, with Sam Butcher in fifth.
Troubles on the final stage saw Rob Butcher drop back through the junior field, allowing Luke Salmon to claim the Gara paddle prize for the first Under 18 boy home, with Asibabale Mpambani second.
There was deep satisfaction etched on the face of Christie Mackenzie as she added a maiden N3TC Drak victory to her impressive CV of results.
As she powered away unchallenged at the front of the women’s race, she easily navigated the new rapid at the end of the race to finish with a cushion of more than five minutes over Bridgitte Hartley, with Umhlanga teenager Saskia Hockly completing the stellar women’s podium.
Underberg local Scotty Little raced into the top ten overall and was one of seven Under 23 paddlers to finish in the top ten.
At the other end of the age categories, Colin Simpkins scrambled into the top 100 overall and in the process finished his 27th Drak, moving him to the top of the Drak Trouts list, while canoeing icon Owen Hemmingway completed his 26th Drak.
N3TC Drak Challenge Stage 2 – Swartberg bridge to Hopewell Farm
SUMMARY OF RESULTS
1 Andy Birkett 1:32:28.22 2:23:52.84 3:56:21.06
2 Hamish Lovemore 1:34:18.34 2:24:12.23 3:58:30.57
3 Matthew Fenn 1:33:44.92 2:26:13.58 3:59:58.50
4 Hank McGregor 1:38:10.59 2:30:04.39 4:08:14.98
1 Christie Mackenzie 1:47:53.23 2:42:52.19 4:30:45.43
2 Bridgitte Hartley 1:51:17.33 2:45:08.05 4:36:25.38
3 Saskia Hockly 1:52:47.38 2:45:02.05 4:37:49.43
4 Nix Birkett 1:54:51.90 2:48:21.08 4:43:12.98
Image: Anthony Grote/Gameplan Media