Ten-time ICF Canoe Marathon World Champion, and defending K1 and K2 world champ, Hank McGregor has hung up his K1 paddles to concentrate on winning another K2 title with Andy Birkett as well as focusing on his surfski paddling.
This was confirmed when the entries for this weekend’s SA Marathon Champs and national team trials in St Francis were processed, revealing the notable absence of McGregor’s name on the K1 entry list.
The most decorated paddler in the marathon discipline capped off a phenomenal 2017 World Championships in Pietermaritzburg where he gave the huge crowd what they wanted on the Saturday beating Andy Birkett and Hungarian Adrian Boros in an exciting end sprint to claim his ninth world title, and seventh K1 world crown.
“After last year’s climax of winning both singles and doubles at home I pretty much felt that I achieved all that I could achieve in marathon racing,” the Euro Steel/Gara Racing Paddles start commented.
“I didn’t even contemplate racing marathons this year but after paddling Dusi with Andy (Birkett) we got talking about maybe doing marathons together.
“He understood when I said I didn’t have plans to race marathon and wanted to put all my focus into surfski paddling because there are a lot of good races and titles to win; there may be a bit of unfinished business for me in surfski paddling.”
Getting back into a K2 took a bit of give and take from both parties and their appearance at the SA Marathon champs this weekend won’t be the last time you see the pair in a K2 this year.
“It was a bit of a 50/50 deal between Andy and myself,” McGregor mentioned. “I said that I would race K2 on the condition that Andy races the Sella Descent in Spain with me.
“It is a race that I would like to tick off and he was quick to take up the offer.
“So that is the deal and at this stage we are guaranteed that we are going to Sella but not guaranteed we are going to Marathon worlds!” he added with a chuckle.
Having been at the top of the marathon racing world for such a long time, the decision to give up the individual discipline came quite easily for the 40 year-old mentioned.
“Everyone asks if you just know when to quit, but I don’t think you ever quite know, it just comes from within.
“Last year I made up my mind that if I won in Maritzburg I was pretty much done and I wanted to win the race in my fashion.
“When I stood on the podium after the K1 race I had a bit of a tear because I was thinking that this would be the last time.
“I made a promise to myself and now it is time for me to focus on other things,” he explained.
McGregor’s focus shift to ocean racing comes at a time when the profile of surfski paddling is on the rise. He was unfortunate to miss out on the world championship title in 2017 in Hong Kong, but will be looking to tick that off his prestigious list of titles.
“Along with the Nelo Summer Challenge in Portugal and the Sella Descent, there are a few big surfski races with a new race in Ireland at the end of September.
“Surfski racing is definitely growing on an international scale and so there are more people becoming professionals at it.
“I feel that if I really put my mind to it and do the homework I have a good chance of winning the world title.
“The ocean is a beautiful place and even though the racing is tough it is still enjoyable, whereas with marathons it is like a gladiators pit, so many people enter and one man leaves with the title,” McGregor added.
The South African Canoe Marathon Championships take place in Cape St Francis this weekend from Friday 15 to Sunday 17 June.
photo: Anthony Grote