Olympic intrigue for SA Sprint Champs

With the 2024 Olympics looming, the four South Africans representing the canoeing team in Paris are set to be decided at the South African Sprint Canoe Championships on Victoria Lake in Gauteng from Friday to Sunday this weekend.

Four athletes will emerge from the men’s and women’s 500m K2 races respectively to represent South Africa in Paris, but there is plenty of intrigue about the selections, with a block of river and marathon paddlers opting for a last-minute bid for Olympic glory.

A total of five South African sprint teams will be chosen from the results of the SA Champs regatta this weekend. The Paris Olympic squad is the big-news team, but squads for the Senior World Championships, World Cup events, the Junior and U23 World Championships, and the Olympic Hopes international development regatta also being selected off the weekend results.

South Africa qualified four kayakers for the Paris Olympics after both the respective men’s and women’s K2 500m crews of Chrisjan Coetzee and Nicholas Weeks, and Esti Olivier and Helen Jansen van Vuuren emerged as African champions in the Olympic qualifying event held on Jabi Lake in Abuja, Nigeria, late last year.

The format for qualification meant the four paddlers – two K2 500m crews – booked places for South Africa on the start line in Paris, and this weekend the selectors will decide which paddlers fill those four places.

Not surprisingly, the Coetzee / Weeks combination will line up as the favourites to fill the two men’s places if they can win the 500m K2 races this weekend, but at least one of Olivier or Jansen van Vuuren will not be going to Paris – and all four paddlers who booked the spots for South African could miss out.

The lure of Olympic glory means a few crews from outside the traditional sprinting community have opted to paddle the trials and some big names from the river, marathon and surfski racing formats will have the traditional flatwater paddlers worried.

14-time Dusi winner and former World Marathon Champion Andy Birkett is teaming up with Hamish Lovemore, and they pose a serious threat to Coetzee and Weeks, while veteran 11-time World Marathon Champion Hank McGregor and Uli Hart have the speed and determination to cause a surprise.

In the women’s race, Esti Olivier spent months in Europe last year gaining experience and attempting to qualify for the 2024 Olympics, before teaming up with Jansen van Vuuren to win the African Champs and grab the last qualifying spot available.

However, the pair will not be paddling together on Victoria Lake this weekend. Olivier will be teaming up with Tiffany Koch and they are the crew most likely to claim South Africa’s place on the start line in Paris in August, while Van Vuuren has partnered with Amy Duffett and they are sure to be challengers.

However, as with the men’s selection, there is a wildcard crew that could steal the limelight away from the flatwater specialists. The Saskia Hockly and Christie Mackenzie combination is one of the most exciting crews in South African women’s paddling at the moment and the current SA K2 river champions are supremely talented and could well be heading for Paris later this year.

Another women’s combination that will be watched with interest is that of South Africa’s only Olympic canoeing medalist, Bridgitte Hartley, and former World Marathon Surfski champion Michelle Burn. The pair clearly have the pedigree, but as a sub-veteran crew it will be fascinating to see if they still have the required top-end speed over a 500m sprint.

The format for the selection is two tiered. If the winners of the men’s and women’s 500m K2 final scheduled for Friday, wins by more than 1.5%, then that crew is automatically selected to represent South Africa at the Olympics. Should the winning margin be closer than 1.5%, then all boats within the 1.5% margin will go forward to two further 500m K2 races. The results from those three races will then be used to select the Paris 2024 crew.

Photo: Hank McGregor celebrates winning the SA Surfski Champs last year, but will be aiming for a place at the Olympics with Uli Hart when he takes part in the SA Sprint Champs, the Olympic selection event, this weekend. (Craig Giese)

Photo: Marcel Sigg Previous post ASA Grand Prix 2 – all the results
Next post Speedy Winning Train On Track For Baby Spar Proteas

Related Post