14 January 2014
With one of South Africa’s most famous endurance sport events, the Dusi Canoe Marathon, fast approaching, paddlers from the country’s canoeing development programmes served notice of their intent by winning two Dusi seeding events on the weekend.
First contested in 1951, the Dusi Canoe Marathon is raced over three days between Pietermaritzburg and Durban, and covers 120 kilometres. It is one of the world’s largest and toughest canoe marathons.
Gauteng province paddlers enjoyed a golden opportunity to prepare for the Dusi in their own backyard when they tackled the blisteringly hot EuroSteel Rumble on the weekend. However, it was KwaZulu-Natal development stars Kwanda Mhlope and Zonele Nzuza who claimed their first major victory of the pre-Dusi season.
Mhlope and Nzuza overcame the heat, low water levels and the challenge of second placed Thomas Ngidi and Sbonelo Zondi (EuroSteel), while Dusi title hopefuls Lance Kime (Best 4 Healthcare/EuroSteel) and Thulani Mbanjwa (Build it) were left to settle with crossing the finishing line in third place in their sinking K2.
Previously Mhlope, who secured an out-of-the-blue day two podium place with Lance Kime in 2012, and Nzuza, a 2013 Dusi top 10 finisher, hadn’t clicked, but they will take great confidence from their win. They will be aiming for a top five finish in the Dusi, which takes place from 13 to 15 February.
With her Dusi partner Jen Theron based in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, adventure racing regular and paddling newcomer Jane Swarbreck claimed the women’s title with her sister, Kate.
Dusi seeding race
Meanwhile, closer to the Dusi route, Albert Falls Dam played host to the second of the weekend’s Dusi seeding races, the Hi-Q Challenge, on Sunday.
With some of the sport’s top paddlers having opted to head north for the weekend, it was the consistent Lucas Mthalane and his Computershare Change a Life Academy partner Mmeli Cele who, like Mhlope and Nzuza, strung together their first meaningful performance of the season and, with the win, gave themselves an important morale boost.
Mthalane, who has lived in the shadow of Valley of a Thousand Hills hero Thulani Mbanjwa and now Dusi darling Sbonelo Zondi, has been one of the most consistent and top performing development paddlers in the country over the past five years and his wealth of experience, together with his now heightened confidence level, will be crucial factors in his gold medal hopes with his partner Mmeli Cele.
Fellow development stars Banesti Nkhoesa and Thembinkosi Ngcobo claimed second, with youth then filling the next places, with the under-23 age group Wilson twins, Travis and Tyler, fellow under-23 stars Murray Haw and Andrew Houston, and under-18 talents Damon Stamp and Mthobisi Cele, completing the top five.
The women’s race was another with a strong youth presence as a trio of under-23 and younger crews claimed the podium positions. The Haw sisters, Bianca and Tamika, crossed the line first, with Jordan Peek and Brittany Petersen in second place, and Camilla Pennefather and Cana Peek in third.
Top Dusi contender Abby Adie, with her partner Anna Adamova still being in the Czech Republic, opted to tackle the event on her own and was the first women’s single across the line.
The next Dusi Canoe Marathon seeding event, the Campbells Farm to Dusi Bridge race, takes place on Sunday, 26 January, over the second half of the route that paddlers will face during stage one of the Dusi.