SA’s big-water paddlers aim for Paris 2024

A small but determined South African canoeing team this week aims for places at the 2024 Paris Olympics when they tackle the daunting artificial rapids of the Lee Valley White Water Centre just outside London at the World Slalom and Cross Championships.

Lee Valley is the same course used for the 2012 London Olympics and is considered to be one of the biggest and toughest courses on the world circuit. This means the relatively inexperienced South African team of Don Wewege, Iain Rennie, Scott Humphry, and the only woman, Chantal Bronkhorst, will have to be at their very best to grab one of the Olympic places on offer for Paris 2024.

These World Championships offer one place each for 15 countries in both the men’s and women’s kayak events (where the South Africans will be competing). Continental qualifying events will also be held early in 2024 with one place each for an African male and female if the country does not qualify at Lee Valley this week.

“With this event being the Paris 2024 Olympic qualifiers, there is a bit extra on the line for the World Champs,” said team captain Wewege from London on Monday. “For our team to get World Champs quota slots here would be extremely tough, but the World Champs ranking is critical for us if we do manage to get the continental quota at the beginning of next year, so we will be pushing for the best results possible.”

Wewege is the most experienced paddler in the team and has based himself in Vienna since 2021 to prepare for this Olympic qualification cycle. He is a six-time time national slalom champion and the most likely to get the nod to go to Paris if South Africa can secure a place.

Rennie may be taking part in his first senior World Championships, but he has plenty of genetic success to call on. Rennie is the son of, Alick, arguably South Africa’s most successful slalom canoeist who was a former President of the SA Canoe Federation and was also captain of the 1992 slalom team that returned to international competition at the Barcelona Olympics. His mother is Nanette Cocksedge, a former Scottish international paddler and multiple South African champion.

Humphry comes from a sprint background, and while the flatwater discipline and slalom may be strange bedfellows, he is probably the quickest across the water and was selected after winning the kayak cross selection event, so is no slouch in the rapids.

Bronkhorst is based in, Sydney, Australia. She recently made history at the Spanish World Cup by becoming the first South African to make it through to the elimination heats in a World Cup and into the knock-out rounds of the kayak cross event.

“Our preparations for the World Champs have been good,” said Wewege. “Chantal was based in London for most of the summer and both of us took part at the Spanish World Cup on the 1992 Olympic slalom course in La Seu D’Urgell – when Iain’s dad raced in the Olympics.

“The team has been all together training on the course for over a week now and have gotten the hang of the really tough water here. This is one of the biggest courses on the world circuit, so it makes the racing really hard.

“We have been helped a lot by having Mitchell Issacs, who is Chantal’s partner, and former GB athlete Angus Gibson assisting the team with coaching and team management.

“The Lee Valley White Water Centre is truly world class. The course is fully artificial and completely adjustable. There have been some changes to the course since the 2012 Olympics and 2015 World Championships … but it is big.

“It has a six metre drop over the course with 12 cumecs of water flow controlled by pumps.”

Wewege, Rennie and Humphry will team up for the slalom team runs on Tuesday, and then the individual kayak slalom heats take place on Thursday for men and women, with semi-finals and finals on Saturday. The kayak cross elimination runs through to finals take place on Sunday.

photo: Don Wewege, seen here training on the race course, leads the South African slalom team to the World Championships at Lee Valley near London. (supplied by Canoeing South Africa)

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