Flatwater Marathon World Champion Hank McGregor (Fenn Kayaks/MacSquad Elite) reinforced just why he is regarded by many as one of the greatest all-round paddlers of all time when he overcame a field of world class pedigree and stormed to a memorable and record-breaking victory in the 2013 Steelcase Dragon Run surfski race in Hong Kong.
McGregor, the first of no less than five South Africans to finish in the top eight, was both relieved and surprised as he crossed the finish line in record time and, whilst being happy to be the new race record holder, was particularly pleased with his victory given the depth and standard of this year’s field.
Having battled his way to a shock seventh position at the inaugural ICF Surfski World Championships in Portugal earlier this year McGregor felt the victory this weekend was a sweet tasting comeback performance against an even stronger field than was present at the global showdown given the presence of the likes of Australian Jeremy Cotter and fellow South African ace Dawid Mocké this time around.
“It was a fantastic race to win because everyone was there, even the guys who boycotted the world champs,” said McGregor.
“Jeremy Cotter was there as defending champion and he was really gracious when he came up to congratulate me after the race.
“The win also gets a bit of a monkey off my back having got two thirds in the last two years,” he added.
An overhaul of his approach and a solid build-up campaign to the Asian clash is what the triple Marathon World Champ feels played an important role in enhancing his competitiveness this time around.
“I’ve come off a really good base with wins at (Marathon) Worlds in Copenhagen, the Hansa Fish and the Vaal, so I have been feeling really good about my form.
“After last year I took stock of where I was and made a number of changes. I changed boats, my training and my technique and I have been working hard at being more efficient and economical, and it seems to be working.”
With conditions relatively unassisting and the quality of his rivals, McGregor knew he was always going to be in for a tough battle if he was to claim the win and despite eventually only finishing fourth, the dangerous Cotter was in fact the man McGregor had kept a close eye on for much of the tussle.
“The race started off at a frantic pace, with testosterone flying everywhere! The front guys were in such a tight bunch at the turn around 9 Pin Island that you could have tossed a blanket over all of us,” explained McGregor.
“Once we got into the open ocean, and with a tail wind over our shoulders, the field spread out a bit.
“Jeremy (Cotter) was over my left shoulder after I got a lead at around the 12km mark, and I was continually checking to see where he was.
“By the time we got to the last turn at Kissing Whales I had a lead of about 250m and that was when I knew that I had it in the bag, unless a typhoon got in the way!
The last five kilometres into the finish were basically flat. You can see the finish from some way out and if you are feeling tired there is absolutely nowhere to hide. Fortunately I was feeling pretty good and I was able to really enjoy the last kilometre and then it was a great feeling to finally cross the line,” he added.
McGregor’s record feat was something even he was surprised by given the unhelpful conditions however believes the strength of his opponents and the recent rise in talent throughout the sport around the globe, played a role in his achievement.
“I was pretty surprised to hear that I had broken the record (by two minutes) because conditions were not that favourable,” said McGregor.
“Dawid Mocké told me that when he won here he had averaged around 13,5 kilometres per hour, and we were going at over 14 km/h.
“I guess that’s a sign of the professionalism that has crept into surfski racing recently. The sport is evolving as more and more guys devote time to training specifically for major surfski events and everyone seems to be benefiting from this!”
Whilst he was claiming victory in Hong Kong, McGregor’s regular doubles partner and fellow surfski star Grant van der Walt (Epic Kayaks/Varsity College) was too enjoying his moment in the limelight a little closer to home when he made the top step of the podium of the 2013 Dischem Automall Pete Marlin surfski race in East London his own.
With the likes of McGregor, Dawid and Jasper Mocké (both Fenn Kayaks), Matt Bouman (Epic Kayaks) and World Surfski Champion Sean Rice (Think Kayaks) all in Hong Kong, van der Walt was left to charge for overall spoils in Saturday’s singles race whilst Nikki Russell (Varsity College/MacSquad Elite) won the women’s title and Barry Lewin (Varsity College/Team Jeep) and Richard von Wildemann walked away Sunday’s doubles race victors.