Pietermaritzburg – The emergence of a number of classy female paddlers has boldly broadened the elite women’s field for this year’s Dusi Canoe Marathon which gets underway at Camps Drift in Pietermaritzburg on Thursday 13 February.
The recent graduation of a group of world class talent from the junior ranks into the under-23 category has further boosted stocks and adds a refreshing, new element to the women’s 2014 clash.
Jenna Ward and Kerry Sega may be the most experienced of the trio of top under-23 crews hoping to mix it up with their senior competitors, however they will undoubtedly have their work cut out for them if they are to even just make the top step of their age group’s podium their own in a few weeks’ time.
“The women’s under-23 category, with the likes of Abby (Adie), Robyn (Kime) and a couple of others having all been in the mix, has been a strong one for quite a while now,” said Ward.
“Even though they’ve all moved up into seniors now, there are a few really good younger girls that have come up from juniors this year and taken Abby and Robyn’s places so the age group is still really competitive.”
Ward claimed her maiden senior river title at the 2013 Berg River Canoe Marathon in the Western Cape and is a regular top performer on the women’s racing scene.
The Dusi has however been her one stumbling block and, with her coach Lee McGregor encouraging her and Segal to focus more on sprinting in 2014, this year’s showcase is set to be an even tougher affair for the duo.
“It took a huge amount of persuasion to get Lee (McGregor) to allow us to even just take part in Dusi this year. When he finally agreed we entered that same night so that he couldn’t go back on his word,” chuckled Ward.
“Part of the agreement was that we’d do it on sprint training though, so we didn’t lose focus too much, so we’ll just have to see how things go for us.
“Both Kerry and I are coming off a really good base because we’ve been focusing on base training for the past little while so hopefully we’ll have the legs to carry us,” she added.
Knowing every intricacy of one another is what comes from being close friends both on and off the water and is another characteristic Ward hopes will help them achieve their overall podium and first under-23 Dusi goals.
“Kerry and I started paddling guppies together so we have known each other for years. We’re good friends, we train together and we understand each other really well which I’m sure will be to our advantage.
“It will be really tough in the under-23 age group but we’re hoping to try win it and I think third place overall is also quite wide open so we’ll really try push for that too,” she added.
A pair with, arguably, an even greater understanding of one another is the Haw sister combination though. Older sister Tamika and 2013 Dusi sensation Bianca have teamed up for this year’s clash and, with their strong hiking, trail running and mountain biking background, will undoubtedly be hoping to be in the reckoning for the women’s under-23 spoils as well.
Under-23 newcomer Jordan Peek and the gutsy Brittany Petersen (Varsity College) form the third noteworthy under-23 couple and the strong young partnership has been working hard together for quite some time already to ensure they too can compete at the front of the field.
“Brit and I started training together at the end of October so we’ve been working together for quite a while now,” explained Peek. “Over these last few months we’ve shifted our focus primarily to running whilst still maintaining our paddling too and hopefully we’ve gotten the balance right.
Like Bianca Haw, 2014 sees Peek compete as a first year under-23 and the step up in competition is something she is relishing.
“The strength of the women’s under-23 category at this year’s Drak Challenge was a real surprise to me as it was my first competitive race in the age group and the field is very strong!” explained Peek.
“It is definitely another level of racing but it’s always fun to have some competition and I was happy with my Drak result (third under-23 and tenth overall) so hopefully things go well for Brit and I at Dusi too.
“We’re hoping for a top ten overall in the ladies race and a podium finish in the under-23 ladies category,” she added conservatively.
The Dusi Canoe Marathon 2014 starts in Pietermaritzburg on Thursday 13 February and ends in Durban on Saturday 15 February 2014. More information can be found at www.dusi.co.za