Three flawless days from Andy Birkett and Abby Solms in the toughest conditions in over a decade saw the pair march convincingly to their respective men’s and women’s titles at the 2017 FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon finishing at Blue Lagoon on Saturday.
Andy Birkett’s three day performance was one of class and experience as he didn’t put a foot wrong on his 120km trip to the sea. Birkett has now tied with the ‘Dusi Duke’ Martin Dreyer with seven Dusi victories with Birkett finishing first in four consecutive races from 2014 to 2017.
“I am not surprised we didn’t have a water release on day three with the drought that we are experiencing but this stage today was definitely the toughest stage of Dusi racing I have experienced,” Birkett said.
“It was a tough day and everyone really deserves their medals!”
“This year’s win has been quite special with the conditions and I can really appreciate sitting back and putting my feet up for a bit – maybe a bit of kite surfing!”
The race for second was ended half way up the grueling Burma Road portage as Euro Steel/Red Bull’s Sbonelo Khwela powered past Hank McGregor and into the distance to his best K1 place at the FNB Dusi.
“I am really happy with my second and I don’t mind losing to a guy like Andy, he paddled so well!”
“I have been working so hard on my paddling so to come second ahead of a guy like Hank McGregor is a great feeling,” Khwela continued.
“To keep focused on my own race today was very important to me and to not chase Hank on the dam. I managed to keep my cool and it worked for me!”
Before the start of the final stage on Saturday most punters would have put the podium positions to rest with McGregor and Khwela set to fight it out for third, however Build-it/Williams Hunt’s Thulani Mbanjwa had other ideas.
“On day one I felt really flat and I was not happy with how I went so I knew that if I could fix it over the next two days I would be in a good position.
“Today the legs felt really good and I just carried on powering on the runs.
“I did have to look over my shoulder a bit to see if Hank was behind me but I managed to hold him off, something I am proud of!” Mbanjwa said.
Solm’s performance was unrivalled as she led the ladies race from the first portage on the opening day to the finish at the mouth to the Indian Ocean. It was a sublime way for the 27 year-old to wrap up her first FNB Dusi title.
“I think I feel more relief than anything at the moment!” Solms mentioned with a smile.
“It was such a tough race, we had all the elements against us throughout but I came into the race wanting to win and I managed to achieve exactly what I wanted!”
With 120km to navigate from start to finish the margins for error become smaller and smaller as the race progresses and despite a slight mishap on the second stage of the race Solms believes she was as close to her best as she could get.
“You are never going to have a flawless race but I was happy that I managed to put three really good days of paddling.
“I have put so much into this so it is satisfying to get a good result,” a chuffed Solms added.
Bridgitte Hartley went into the final day in second and might have had the edge over the dam with her flat-water prowess however when the paddlers were on their feet it was Mackenzie who came into her own.
“I’m very, very happy with my result! I am still just trying to get my breath back from that stretch into the finish but still over the moon with a podium finish.
“I was so happy with how I went today considering my performance yesterday. I nearly felt like giving up on the dam but I am happy I pushed through today in such tough conditions!”
Hundreds of paddlers set off from Camps Drift on Thursday not entirely sure of what the three days of paddling would have in store with uncertain water levels and difficult environmental issues to consider, however as is Dusi tradition paddlers embraced the experience positively at the finish on Saturday.
“It’s fantastic to see the unbelievable turnout of the competing paddlers and spectators enjoy the incredible experience of taking part in this competition. We congratulate all the participants especially the winners who showed impressive resilience all the way to the finish line,” says Howard Arrand, KZN Provincial Head of FNB Business.
Stewart Little walked away with the Under 18 boys prize ahead of Mvelo Ngidi and Minenhle Mbhele in second and third respectively. Behind Mackenzie in the girls under 18 increment was Tracey Oellermann and Gemma Lawson.
David Evans was impressive over the three days winning the Under 16 boys crown while Caitlin Mackenzie was the fastest Under 26 girl throughout the three days.