24 February 2009
Ant Stott scooped a record-breaking sixth victory in the Drakensberg Challenge Canoe Marathon at the end of a thrilling battle with defending champion Len Jenkins on Sunday. While Stott, a veteran of the Drak Challenge, was notching up yet another title, Michelle Eray won the women’s race on her first attempt.
Stott seized a fleeting opportunity at Heaven and Hell Rapid to put space between himself and Jenkins on the full and fast-flowing Umzimkulu River to win by 40 seconds.
“We worked together at the beginning, but when we got to Heaven and Hell I took a better line and managed to get ahead,” said Stott.
The much anticipated challenge from the chasing group of Gauteng teenager Grant van der Walt and Hank McGregor evaporated when McGregor broke his boat at Taylor’s Weir, 15 minutes from the start of the final stage, leaving Van der Walt to try and hunt down the two leaders on his own.
His brave solo challenge came tantalisingly close and he was happy to settle for third place and the final spot on the podium. His younger brother Brandon van der Walt also enjoyed a flawless race, finishing seventh overall and first in the junior category.
“Glenhaven was bigger than I expected!” said Stott. “Grant (van der Walt) was the man of the hour, he made up so much distance today!” he added.
“Well done to Ant (Stott) for today!” said Jenkins. “We worked together most of the way and then my boat started taking on some water, and then Ant (Stott) just got ahead.”
‘I had to go it alone’
“I had a really good day!” said Van der Walt. “But when Hank (McGregor) broke at Taylor’s Weir I had to just go at it alone. I tried to gain on them, but didn’t manage to get close enough. But overall the water was great. I had no damage to by boat and no swims!”
The women’s race was laced with drama as the trio of Robyn Kime, Carol Joyce and Michele Eray provided a riveting spectacle over the 38-kilometre final stage, which was raced on a full river after heavy overnight thunderstorms, in sharp contrast to the low water levels of the first stage.
Joyce fell off the front bunch after a swim at Taylor’s Weir shortly after the start, followed by another silly swim on the outskirts of Underberg.
Kime’s challenge for the title was undermined when she capsized at the Underberg Weir; her chances of recovering well enough to contest the title then ended with a horrific swim down the wild Glenhaven Rapid.
Strongest women’s field
The win for the ecstatic Eray capped a highly competitive race featuring the strongest women’s field assembled for many years. Eray, the reigning Dubai Shamaal champion and one of the stars of the South African sprint team at the Beijing Olympics, came into the race under-prepared, recovering from tendon surgery to her forearm.
“I had a jol, hey!” she said. “I had plans to sit behind Carol and get her to show me the river, but she swam at Underberg so I went into the gorge lonesome ownsome!” laughed Eray.
“It’s great here and I’m surprised I’ve never been here before! I’ll definitely be back next year!” she smiled.
“I had two swims today, one at Glenhaven and then again at Underberg Weir,” said Kime. “Carol (Joyce) caught me at Glenhaven and then we worked together the rest of the way until I broke away a bit at the end. I’d love to come up here every weekend!” she added.
‘Two silly swims’
“Unfortunately it wasn’t a good day for me!” said Joyce. “I would have preferred to have done two stages of day one. I had two silly swims twenty minutes in to the race at Taylor’s Weir and some place nearby. But it was not a bad result overall.”
The big field of 808 paddlers enjoyed two days of clear hot Southern Drakensberg weather and an Umzimkulu River that varied from frustratingly low on the first stage to wild waves and holes on the final stage of the race.
- Ant Stott 03:50:19
- Len Jenkins 03:51:00
- Grant van der Walt 03:51:10
- Greg Louw 03:59:11
- Jacques Theron 03:59:16
- Piers Cruickshanks 04:02:22
- Brandon van der Walt 04:02:32
- Ryan Louw 04:04:18
- Michael Arthur 04:06:43
- Murray Burgess 04:06:47
- Michele Eray 04:20:57
- Robyn Kime 04:23:54
- Carol Joyce 04:24:31
- Hilary Pitchford 04:33:50
- Danica Vorster 04:35:29
- Jen Hodson 04:36:47
- Abie Adie 04:37:06
- Michelle Eder 04:40:22
- Tamika Haw 04:44:05
- Tiffany Kruger 04:46:20
Source: Canoeing South Africa