23 January 2012
Hank McGregor paddled his way into the history books on Sunday by becoming the first canoeist to win three back-to-back K1 titles in the Drakensberg Challenge, one of South Africa’s premier canoeing marathons.
The two-day event takes place annually from Castleburn, near Underberg in the KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg, to Early Mist Farm, not far from the Coleford Eco Estate and Lodge.
McGregor held off a spirited challenge from Len Jenkins, with whom he will team up in The Unlimited Dusi, while Robyn Kime finally bagged the women’s title that had seemed fated to elude her.
McGregor and Jenkins raced the majority of the 70km of the race side by side, until world marathon champ McGregor powered his way to the front on the final corner to claim his third victory in as many years at the event.
A colossal battle
The duo finished the first stage together, with the tussle resumed on day two, and it wasn’t long before things turned to into a colossal battle with neither willing to give an inch on the water nor, the slightest of psychological advantages.
With strong rains having arrived on Saturday afternoon and continued throughout the night, the mighty Umzimkulu River rose to the occasion and provided the perfect setting for the spectacle which developed between some of the country’s top river paddlers.
“It was just superb out there today! It’s always great to win the Drak, especially with it being the first major race of the season, so I’m really chuffed with the good start to the year, and to have become the first person ever to have won three titles in a row in a K1,” said McGregor.
“Len (Jenkins) and I had a great race and spent a lot of time together on the water.
“I always thought it would come down to an end sprint, so I just tried to keep my nose in front as much as I could today, and then, fortunately, I managed to get the jump on him over the last bit and get home first, which I’m really chuffed about,” he added.
Judging by the pair’s performance in the Drak Challenge, they’re going to be tough to beat in The Unlimited Dusi.
“Len’s a phenomenal competitor and it was great to be able to battle it out with him for the past two days. It was great to paddle through the valley with some company today and we definitely push each other throughout,” McGregor said.
“We’re both in great shape and this weekend just reinforced how strong our paddling is at the moment, and it was a huge confidence for us to have finished first and second.
“It just shows how similar our standard is and hopefully that can lead to good things at the Dusi.”
Second step on the podium
Having dropped Jenkins on the compulsory portage at Mineshaft Weir, McGregor then held the lead for 30 minutes before Jenkins managed to claw his way back at the leader. It just wasn’t enough and last year’s runner-up once again had to settle for the second step on the podium.
“I couldn’t have hoped for too much coming into this race. I’ve been doing loads of running recently and Hank just had a really good one today, so I’m not too disappointed,” said Jenkins.
“Hank put in a little further down than I did after the portage and he managed to get ahead. I then managed to close the gap and tried to take it away at the end. but I was in the wrong position coming into the end sprint,” he added.
“We’re both feeling good at the moment, though, so hopefully now we can just have a good Dusi together.”
Stormer of a second day
Having suffered in low conditions on the opening day, Team Best 4 Kayak Centre’s Grant van der Walt had a stormer of a second day. After starting in fifth position, he powered his way to third place overall and in the process broke his own day two record time.
“I had a really had a bad day yesterday, but the water was just perfect for me today. I did my best not to worry too much about the guys behind me and just tried to focus on catching the guys in front of me,” said van der Walt.
“I knew there was no point in trying to just finish third, so I went out there trying to catch Hank and Len and I just put my head down and went for it.
“I managed to catch Ant (Stott) and then my brother (Brandon van der Walt), but the top two were just too strong,” he added.
Kime’s first win
Brandon van der Walt crossed the line shortly after his older brother and completed another excellent day for the newly formed Team Best 4 Kayak Cent. They claimed all four top positions in the men’s race before leading lady and fellow team member Robyn Kime claimed her first Drak victory.
Kime, after starting the day with a lead of over seven minutes, set her about her business early on and stretched her lead over her nearest rival by a further minute to finally broke her Drak hoodoo which had seen her finish second for the past three years.
“It’s always really great to win a race for the first time and the Drak is one of my favourite races, so to have won today really is fantastic!” said Kime. “Hopefully it is a sign of things to come this year.
‘Everything went so smoothly’
“Everything went so smoothly for me today. I didn’t make any mistakes, which was great, and it was nice to be able to race against and work with the men.
“The guys work really hard and put in some really tough intervals over the flats, so I certainly had to work a lot harder than usual, but it was nice for things to be competitive and I definitely think I went a lot faster.”
One of the performances of the day belonged to women’s defending champ Abby Adie, another member of the powerful Team Best 4 Kayak Centre outfit. She managed to lift herself after a disappointing first day and work her way into a solid second place behind Kime.
‘A great start’
“I had a great start today and just worked with the guys around me early, which helped me catch Abbey (Ulansky) at the first weir,” said Adie.
“Once I caught Jen (Hodson), I just tried to race my own race and, besides a stupid swim right at the very end, which fortunately didn’t cost me anything, I was very happy with how everything went.
“Yesterday was very disappointing,” she continued, “but at the start of the weekend I was hoping for a podium finish, so I’m still very happy.”
In the junior boys’ section it was Emile Theunissen from Gauteng who managed to get ahead of KZN-based Murray Starr and Murray Haw, whilst in the junior girls’ it was Brittany Petersen who claimed the victory ahead of Jordan Peek and Bianca Haw.
- Hank McGregor 3:56.11
- Len Jenkins 3:56.22
- Grant van der Walt (u23) 3:58.21
- Brandon van der Walt (u23) 3:59.26
- Greg Louw 4:06.17
- Ant Stott 4:06.18
- Shaun Griffin 4:06.27
- Jacques Theron 4:08.45
- Jeffrey Smith 4:08.46
- Andrew Birkett (u23) 4:11.06
- Robyn Kime (u23) 4:19.05
- Abby Adie (u23) 4:28.40
- Jen Hodson 4:30.30
- Abbey Ulansky 4:36.13
- Brittany Petersen (u18) 4:41.47
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