20 November 2013
South African canoeing has received a major boost with the announcement by the International Canoe Federation that the World Canoe Marathon Championships will be hosted by the Natal Canoe Club at Camps Drift in Pietermaritzburg in 2017.
The announcement came at the ICF board of directors’ meeting in Lima, Peru on the weekend, bringing to fruition the lobbying work done by the Natal Canoe Club to host the event at the home of the famous Dusi Canoe Marathon.
“This is a major boost for canoeing in South Africa,” Canoeing South Africa president Christo Horn said this week.
“Marathon racing is one of our strongest disciplines, and we currently have both the senior men’s K1 world champion and under-23 men’s K1 world champion in Hank McGregor and Andy Birkett to go with our long history of marathon successes.
“This will allow our elite athletes to perform in front of their hometown supporters, and it will be a great opportunity to market and grow the discipline of flat water marathon racing at a venue more famous for river racing.”
For under-23 world champ Birkett, a Pietermaritzburg resident and member of the Natal Canoe Club (NCC), the event will be an opportunity to compete for a world title on home water.
‘A great place’
“I am very excited. In 2017, I will be 27. That’s pretty much the perfect age,” Birkett said.
“I’m sure that Pietermaritzburg will be a great place to have it as well. The people tend to support big sporting events held in the city. It’s quite a small community, but sports events, like the 2013 Mountain Bike World Championships, are very well supported. Hopefully we’ll see something along the same line for the Canoe Marathon World Champs.”
Brett Austen Smith, the general manager of the NCC, said he wanted to make the event as accessible as possible for overseas visitors.
“We are very grateful to the ICF for awarding us this event,” he said. “Their confidence is very encouraging and we see this as reward for the strong reputation South Africa has in marathon canoeing.
“Our intention is to make the World Champs a truly memorable event, and the biggest event in the history of marathon racing.
“We will be able to offer very affordable food and accommodation packages due to the exchange rate. The strong Zulu Culture of this region will also make for an exciting and interesting event, both on and off the water. We will be able to offer and present an event that will be totally unique for both competitors and spectators alike.”
Austen Smith said R17.5-million (approximately €1.3-million) would be spent to ensure the World Championships will be memorable.
“Hosting the 2017 event will ensure that facilities at Camps Drift are significantly upgraded. This will result in a world class venue, not only for competition, but for training during northern hemisphere winters as well.
“The NCC Clubhouse has gym and physio facilities, as well as access to perfect training waters. The close proximity to the City centre means that paddlers never have far to travel for shopping conveniences like coffee shops and internet facilities that are always so important to athletes. Year round, the weather is very suitable for paddling.”
Three-time world champion Hank McGregor said he saw the awarding of the World Championships as a reward for South Africa’s passion for marathon paddling.
“It’s fantastic news, ‘ he said. “The ICF has clearly seen South Africa as a country that is serious about marathons and this is due to all the results, from our junior boys and girls to our masters over the years.
“It is such a big plus, but we mustn’t take it for granted.
“I would love to be part of it in some way,” McGregor added. “I am getting a little long in the tooth, so I don’t know if I will be racing the seniors, but I really want to be there in some form or other.”
The NCC will host a number of major events at Camps Drift in the lead-up to the 2017 World Championships, including the 2015 Kwa-Zulu Natal Championships, the South African Championships and the All African Championships currently planned for the venue. In 2016 the ICF World Cup will serve as a dress rehearsal for the World Champs.
The 2017 World Championships will be preceded by the Masters Cup events for veteran and masters paddlers, which is expected to be very well supported by local paddlers.
“Our veteran and masters age group paddling is extremely strong, and because there is no limit to the entry for these events, we expect a huge turnout of local paddlers eager to be a part of this event in their own backyard,” said Austen Smith.
“We have four years to prepare for this event, and also to get our talent identification process geared up so that we can really mount a considerable challenge in every age group and category.”