Benoni – World Marathon Champion Hank McGregor entrenched his status as the continents premier paddler by mastering the icy Highveld weather and a large and very powerful field as he claimed his eighth South African Marathon K1 title as he outsprinted Jasper Mocké and under-23 World Champion Andy Birkett to win a tightly contested affair, and then teamed up with Mocké to add the K2 title on Sunday.
“It is tough racing at altitude for us coastal guys,” the Kayak Centre/Team Jeep paddler mentioned. “You can’t just go out like a bull in a china shop and you need to conserve your energy and keep the heart-rate down so I am really happy with my performance this weekend.”
The triple World Marathon Champion was up against a tough field and explained that he knew his tactics were going to have to be spot-on in order to beat a star-studded field of paddlers and with that win he has secured his place in the South African team for the World Marathon Champs in Oklahoma City in September.
“It was a really high quality field and so I knew that tactically I had to be on point and I think I managed to outsmart the others which gave me the edge.
“I felt really comfortable throughout the race and it was a case of everyone gunning for positions with World Champs places up for grabs!” a satisfied McGregor added.
The Durban based McGregor had only recently returned from the Gruelling Maui Jim Molokai Surfski Challenge in Hawaii and so felt that he was a little underdone in terms of his marathon preparation but with the Worlds a few months away his focus shifts to Marathon training.
“I have been doing a lot of surfski training recently and so marathon hasn’t been the main focus for me but with the Worlds in September I will be focusing a lot more on marathon paddling and portaging as well,” McGregor explained.
McGregor paired up with fellow surfski ace and Dusi Canoe Marathon partner Jasper Mocké in the K2 event which they won with the Van der Walt brothers Grant and Brandon coming a close second. That win meant that McGregor has now won five K2 SA Marathon titles and he feels that the impressive performances by South African paddlers on the national stage have led to a great interest in marathon paddling.
“We have got a strong history of bringing home World titles and medals from marathon events and I think that this helps to get people interested. Not only the youth are getting involved but the masters have also become more involved.”
The 2014 edition of the SA Marathon Champs was one of the largest in the history of the event with hundreds of paddlers braving the single digit degrees to show their worth against the best paddlers in the country with dreams of being on the plane to Oklahoma in September. The large subscription to the event was something that McGregor was quite overwhelmed by.
“When you look back at the SA Champs last year I was so taken aback by the numbers that we saw out there this year!
“It was so great to see so many people getting involved in such a well-run event and it was not just the senior categories but there were a number of junior paddlers that were involved and that is exciting to see with a World Marathon Champs here in 2017,” an encouraged McGregor concluded.
The women’s K1 title was won by Olympic bronze medallist Bridgitte Hartley, who powered her way to the win on the back of a solid Sprint World Cup campaign in Europe. She dominated proceedings with a mammoth four minute gap between her and second place finisher Nikki Russell.
Runner-up to Andy Birkett at the 2013 World Marathon Champs Brendon van der Walt proved too strong in the under-23 category as he beat fellow Western Province paddler Stuart Maclaren and Jenna Ward won the girls under-23 category from Brittany Petersen.
The Under-18 division was also a tightly contested affair with Kwazulu-Natal pair of Louis Hattingh and Bryan Leroux fighting it out for the K1 title with Hattingh sneaking it from Leroux by four seconds. The girl’s race was not as close as Julia Trodd raced away from the chasing bunch to win by two minutes over Bronwyn Martin from Australia.
Lerouw got his gold medal in the K2 event with Western Cape paddler Stuart Bristow and Trodd did the double when she won the under-18 girls K2 title with Donna Hutton.
The huge field of 441 entries included a large field of veteran and masters age group paddlers, contesting the places in the national team that precedes the marathon world championships every year.
The event, held at Homestead dam and superbly hosted East Rank Kayak Club and the Gauteng Canoe Union underscored the strength and interest in the discipline of flatwater marathon racing, given the consistent success enjoyed by South African paddlers internationally over the past decade.
SUMMARY OF RESULTS – South African Marathon Championships
1. Hank McGregor (KZN) 2:17.28
2. Jasper Mocké (WP) 2:17.29
3. Andy Birkett (KZN) 2:17.29
4. Grant van der Walt (KZN) 2:18.05
5. Ben Biggs (WP) 2:21.30
1. Bridgitte Hartley (KZN) 2:11.44
2. Nikki Russell (KZN) 2:15.25
3. Hayley Arthur (KZN) 2:21.16
1. Brandon van der Walt (WP) 2:01.35
2. Stuart Maclaren (WP) 2:01.36
3. Ivan Kruger (WP) 2:01.46
1. Jenna Ward (KZN) 1:56.14
2. Brittany Petersen (KZN) 2:01.21
1. Louis Hattingh (KZN) 1:47.30
2. Bryan Leroux (KZN) 1:47.34
3. Stuart Bristow (WP) 1:48.28
1. Julia Trodd (KZN) 1:41.42
2. Bronwyn Martin (AUS) 1:43.52
3. Martine Beukes (WP) 1:45.20
1. Hank McGregor/Jasper Mocké 2:09.25
2. Brandon vander Walt/Grant van der Walt 2:09.27
3. Andy Birkett/Greg Louw 2:09.43
4. Stuart Maclaren/Clinton Cook 2:09.45
5. Travis Wilson/Tyler Wilson 2:17.29
1. Abby Adie/Laura O’Donoghue 2:10.44
2. Hayley Arthur/Jenna Ward 2:10.45
3. Melanie van Niekerk/Brittany Petersen 2:13.59
1. Stuart Bristow/Bryan Leroux 1:43.23
2. Keagan Kok/Bailey De Fondaumiere 1:45.18
3. Mark Keeling/Anders Hart 1:47.11
1. Julia Trodd/Donna Hutton 1:37.16
2. Bronwyn Martin/Matilda Stevenson 1:37.20
3. Sabina Lawrie/Kyeta Purchase 1:40.07
All photos: Terence Vrugtman/Gameplan Media