South Africa emerged from the second day of racing at the ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships on Friday with two more medals, including a silver for Cape Town’s Nick Notten, but there was also plenty of cruel heartbreak for the hosts at Camps Drift in Pietermaritzburg.
At the end of the day, the Hungarians had increased their lead in the medal tables with another almost near-perfect day of racing, but the story of the day was the cruel luck which befell the hosts.
At least one certain South African medal sunk into the muddy waters of Camps Drift, and there was potentially a second as well.
First in the K2 junior men’s event when a broken rudder cost Callam Davis and Hamish Lovemore a certain medal as they were racing in a lead group of three when the disaster occurred.
And then in the final event, the U23 men’s race, Michaelhouse schoolboy Jean van der Westhuizen, a big hope for a medal, was in the front group midway through the first lap when a clash of boats ended with him swimming to the side and his hopes of success dashed.
On Thursday Caitlin Mackenzie was also knocked out of her boat at the start of the junior girls’ event.
In the men’s U23 race, Argentinian Franco Balboa paddled a tactically perfect race to break the dominance of the potent Hungarian outfit with Notten finishing second – but his tactically perfect race did not meet the approval of everybody in the stands.
Notten was the surprise package of the event as he stepped up to claim the silver medal and provide the vocal local supporters with plenty to shout about after Van der Westhuizen’s woes.
Balboa was conspicuous by his decisions not to work in the group and his single-minded efforts to save energy paid off after Notten had made a brave long-range bid for gold with two of the seven laps remaining. At the end of the fourth portage, Notten found himself with a gap over the large lead group and he paddled away to a narrow but vital lead.
It took a lap for anybody to come close to the Cape Town paddler when, after the penultimate portage, Balboa made use of a quick run and put in to chase the South African down over the next 500 metres. Once he caught his rival, the Argentinian gambled on Notten not wanting the chasing group to catch and did the minimum work over the next three kilometres.
Then, making full use of his fresher arms, he sprinted away powerfully over the final 300 metres for the gold.
The Hungarians were once again the heroes in the junior men’s K2 event, but it was happiness with the cruellest of heartbreak for one of the two South African crews who formed the lead group with the Hungarian duo for all but the final 1 500m.
The Hungarian pair of Levente Vékássy and Varga Ádám claimed the gold when they easily local under 16s David Evans and Hamish Mackenzie – students at Maritzburg College which is situated just 200m away from the race venue.
In the end Spain’s Carlos Gómez and Miguel Sánchez took bronze, but they will be the first to admit their third place was the result of a massive stroke of good fortune, and as much as they put themselves in the position to claim the bronze, it should have been two medals to South Africa.
With about 1 500m to go, the race was a contest between the Hungarians, Evans and Mackenzie, and the second South African crew of Kearsney’s Davis and Lovemore from Hilton College. With a huge lead over the chase group it was just the colour of medals to be decided – until, in a cruel twist of fate, Davis’ and Lovemore’s rudder evidently “simply fell out”.
After the event Lovemore said he did not know what happened because they never hit anything floating in the water, but the pedals “just went soft”. Without any steering, the pair bravely continued and it was evidence as to how far ahead they were that the chasing group only passed the rudderless South Africans with about 350m to go.
In the first event of the day, Hungary, started in the same way they left off on Thursday with a one-two finish in the junior women’s K2 event.
Following on from Hungary’s victory in each of the five events on the opening day, and silver medals from three of the four medal events, Emese Kohalmi and Olga Bakó cruised home to an emphatic win in the opening event of Friday’s programme. The young Hungarian duo was two minutes 44 seconds ahead of compatriots Zsófia Korsós and Viktória Nagy, with the British pairing of Freya Peters a Emma Russell claiming the bronze two minutes further back.
On Saturday, the elite men and women will compete for the senior medals with the blue riband men’s event offering two South Africans from KwaZulu-Natal with a chance of glory.
Dusi star and former World Champs medalist Andy Birkett would like nothing better than to grab a victory in front of his home crowd, but standing in his way will be eight-time Canoe World Champion Hank McGregor.
The South Africans in the women’s race are Melanie van Niekerk and 2012 Olympic silver medalist Bridgitte Hartley who will be looking to use her top speed to create chances for a medal.
More information can be found at www.canoesa.org.za
SUMMARY OF RESULTS – ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships Day Two
Junior Women’s K2
1 Emese Kohalmi/Olga Bakó (HUN) 1:26:15
2 Zsófia Korsós/Viktória Fruzsina Nagy (HUN) 1:28:59
3 Freya Peters/Emma Russell (GBR) 1:31:19
4 Christie Mackenzie/Sabina Lawrie (RSA) 1:32:11
5 Teresa Isotta Natalia/Isabel Campana (RSA) 1:32:20
6 Caitlin Mackenzie/Amy Peckett (RSA) 1:32:45
Junior Men’s K2
1 Levente Vékássy/Varga Ádám (HUN) 1:35:43
2 David Evans/Hamish Mackenzie (RSA) 1:35:52
3 Carlos Gómez/Miguel Sánchez (ESP) 1:38:01
4 Joseph Petersen/Oscar McKittrick (GBR) 1:38:03
5 Beaudoin Geniesse/Briac Labbe (FRA) 1:38:12
6 Callam Davis/Hamish Lovemore (RSA) 1:38:37
U23 Men’s K2
1 Franco Balboa (ARG) 1:52:53
2 Nicolas Notten (RSA) 1:53:03
3 Krisztián Máthé (HUN) 1:53:29
4 Miguel Llorens (ESP) 1:53:50
5 Jon Amund Vold (NOR) 1:54:11
9 Jean van der Westhuizen (RSA) 1:56:30
Image: The young combination of Hamish Mackenzie (front) and David Evans (back) put in a remarkable display to win silver in the junior men’s K2 race (Anthony Grote)