The ICF Canoe Marathon Masters World Cup concluded on Tuesday, paving the way for the world’s best canoe marathon paddlers to take centre stage as they fight it out for gold medals at the 2017 ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships from Thursday to Sunday.
2017 will be the 25th edition of the international showpiece and the second time that it will be hosted in South Africa after Cape Town played host in 1998. Of the 26 nations that will be at the event European powerhouse Hungary and hosts South Africa are expected to feature prominently on the medals table.
The local focus will undoubtedly be on Hank McGregor; the eight-time world champion will go into this year’s event as the out-and-out favourite for the men’s K1 title having won five of the previous six gold medals on offer in the singles class.
McGregor’s competition will come from a number of different sources including Portugal’s José Ramalho and Hungary’s Adrian Boros; however his biggest threat will come from 2016 silver medallist and fellow South African Andy Birkett.
Birkett’s training base is Camps Drift and the 26 year-old star’s marathon career has blossomed since his 2014 Under 23 gold medal which should mean he is going to be a threat to McGregor’s dominance. The ladies showdown will be an intriguing tussle between the old and the new with seven-time K1 women’s champion Renáta Csay and the young and talented Vanda Kiszli.
The Hungarian pair took gold and silver respectively in 2016 and will be fighting it out for dominance again in 2017, however there will be strong opposition from the likes of Czech Republic star, and 2015 World Champion, Anna Koziskova. Koziskova is no stranger to Camps Drift having used the venue as a base for her training during her 2016 FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon triumph with Abby Solms.
The senior K2 showdowns will also be fiercely contested with the return of the defending champions Renáta Csay and Alexandra Bara while 2016 silver medallists Jenna Ward and Kyeta Purchase will not be racing together. Ward will be teaming up with Nicole Russell for the doubles showdown while Vanda Kiszli will pair up with Sara Anna Mihalik in the second Hungarian boat.
In the men’s K2 event the gold and silver medallists from 2016 will return with South African pair McGregor and Jasper Mocké ready to fight it out with Adrián Boros and László Solti from Hungary. Andy Birkett, who won bronze with Louis Hattingh in 2016, will be in the boat with a new partner in 2017, former junior K2 champion Jean van der Westhuyzen.
In the Under 23 women’s race two of the 2016 podium finishers, Sara Anna Mihalik from Hungary and Hermien Peters from Belgium will return in 2017. Without the powerhouse Vanda Kiszli in the Under 23 ranks this year the gold medal is up for grabs.
The Under 23 men’s start list mirrors the ladies with 2016 gold medallist Ádám Petro not featuring this year but the silver and bronze medallists from 12 months ago, Mads Brandt Petersen from Denmark and Franco Balboa from Argentina, are on the entry list.
In the junior divisions silver medallist from the 2016 junior girl’s showdown Viktoria Nagy will be on the start line along with current European champion and fellow Hungarian Dorina Fekete. The boy’s favourite will be defending champion and Hungarian star Ádám Varga. Two European Championship podium finishers in Charles Simon from Great Britain and Ronan Foley will both be on the start line on Thursday afternoon.
In the junior boys K2 category Varga will team up with current European K1 champion Levente Vekessy to defend the title that he won with Erik Petro 12 months ago. The girls K2 race will see defending champions Zsófia Korsos and Viktória Fruzsina Nagy go into the contest as the team to beat.
The C-Boat category at the World Championships will be just as tightly contested with the world’s finest marathon paddlers hoping to hang a gold medal around their necks. In the junior C-boat division, 2016 boys C1 bronze medallist Balazs Adolf from Hungary might take the favourites tag into the contest, however the junior girls C1 contest is an open contest. Current European champion Mathilde Troncin should go into the event as the favourite.
The junior boys C2 showdown will see four boats from Germany, Hungary, France and Spain go up against one another.
Amongst the Under 23 ranks, the 2016 world champion and bronze medallists will return in the form of Hungarian Bence Dori and Denys Davydov from the Ukraine.
In the senior women C1 race two medallists from Brandeburg will be returning. Gold medal winning Hungarian, Zsanett Lakatos will take part as well as bronze medallist Liudmyla Babak from the Ukrain.
All three medallists from the 2016 World Championships will return for the men’s C1 event. Marton Kover from Hungary, Manuel Antonio Campos from Spain and Nuno Barros from Portugal will all lead the charge.
In the senior men’s C2 event the 2016 podium will be back to fight it out once again for the honours of being a world champion.
The action starts on Thursday morning with the K1 Junior Girls race at 09:00.
Schedule – Thursday
09:00 K1 Women Juniors 19.3km
09:15 C1 Women Juniors 15.6km
11:50 K1 Women U23 23km
12:00 C1 Men Juniors 19.3km
14:45 K1 Men Juniors 23km
Image: Hungarian ace Vanda Kiszli (right) is no stranger to South Africa and met up with South African women’s K2 hopefuls Hayley Nixon (middle) and Michelle Burn (left) before racing starts at the 2017 ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships on Thursday. (Dave Macled)