17 February 2013
Lance and Robyn Kime created history by becoming the first siblings to win the men’s and women’s singles titles in The Unlimited Dusi Canoe Marathon on Saturday at Blue Lagoon in Durban. While Robyn surged to a convincing victory, having led from five kilometres into the 120km race, Lance had to wait until 10 kilometres from the finish to hit the front for the first time.
The first two days of the men’s race had belonged to Sbonelo Zondi, who was bidding to become the first black paddler to win the K1 title. Thulani “Michael” Mbanjwa had previously taken the K2 title with the “Dusi Duke” Martin Dreyer in 2008. Now Zondi, under the guidance of Dreyer at the Computaform Change A Life Academy was chasing victory.
The Dusi, unlike other paddling races, requires the competitors to be competent runners with their boats, quite apart from their paddling ability, with a number of compulsory portages included along the route. In some places the contestants have to choose between running and paddling.
The importance of portaging
On day one, despite a slightly low river, Zondi showed just how important portaging could be when he raced to a stage record. He and three-time defending champion Andy Birkett were both within the previous mark, with Zondi finishing 20 seconds in front of Birkett in 2:43:17. Kime was third, just over two minutes off the leader.
“I’m very, very happy about my result. To be the first here at Number Nine (Dusi Bridge) for the first time is great,” said Zondi. “I didn’t think about trying to break the record. I just tried to race my own race today and the record, it just happened, but I’m very happy about it.”
In the women’s race, the story was not dissimilar as Robyn Kime pulled clear of Abby Adie and Jen Theron after the trio reached the Campbell’s portage together.
Kime had to wait until the Fingerneck portage for a split. “They told me it was nine minutes. I really couldn’t believe it. I kept pushing to extend my lead to as big as I could make it.”
Using her experience as a trail runner to her advantage, Kime destroyed the opposition, completing the day in 3:11:21, which gave her a lead of over 14 minutes over Adie. Epworth schoolgirl Bianca Haw followed the two former Epworth pupils across the finishing line.
Day one was a real test of endurance for most. The Valley of 1 000 Hills was like a cauldron, with temperatures reaching into the 40s, coupled with high humidity, but somehow those in the pack, known as the fish and chips paddlers, made their way to the finish at Dusi Bridge after a 42km slog.
Included in the field were former Olympic silver medallist Terence Parkin, paddling with Midmar Mile organiser Wayne Riddin, who was paddling his 25th Dusi. 5FM and SuperSport presenter Sias du Plessis tackled the race for a second time with former Dusi champion Deon Bruss, while Idols’ judge Unathi Msengana, KFM presenter Liezel van der Westhuizen and East Coast Radio’s Damon Beard also took on the challenge.
Defending champ’s chances scuppered
Thanks to a generous water release, day two saw the level of the rivers rise considerably. It also saw four changes in the lead of the men’s race. Andy Birkett managed to hit the front, but he suffered rudder damage and a swim and the time it took for him to repair his rudder dropped him down to fourth spot, which effectively scuppered his chances of another title.
“Andy was opening a gap at Gauging Weir, but when I saw him change his rudder I knew I had to go for it and I put the hammer down all the way to the finish,” said Zondi after finishing day two in first place, thanks to the staggered start based on elapsed times. Kime and McGregor turned in faster times on the day, with McGregor the fastest by three-and-a-half minutes.
“The first 30 minutes or so were absolute hell. It was pretty low and we kept having to bump over the rocks. Once we got to confluence it was a big relief. I was much happier and was able to really work quite hard at catching the guys in front of me,” he said afterwards.
‘An epic incident’
Robyn Kime’s race was very nearly ended at Hippo Rapid. Describing an “epic incident”, Kime said: “I took the day very conservatively, but I often swim at Hippo. There’s only one place you can break your boat at Hippo, but I found it.
“My boat was almost folded in half. I managed to save it before it totally broke and was very surprised when my boat simply popped back into shape.
“I thought ‘that’s it, it’s gone’,” she admitted.
It took Kime some time to get back into a rhythm. “I emptied the boat, had a quick look at it. It looked okay. I stopped, put my splashie back on. Then I had to stop for a few seconds, take a few deep breaths to compose myself and carry on.”
Despite her mishap, Kime was still the fastest woman on the day, finishing close to three minutes ahead of Adie. Jen Theron and Hilary Pitchford caught Bianca Haw, in third place overnight, on the flat water of the Inanda Dam and went on to finish third and fourth respectively.
A new innovation
Day three featured a new innovation for the race, now into its 62nd year, a reverse start, which saw the leaders departing the Inanda Dam many hours behind the slower batches to avoid catching them. The result of this was a big crowd awaiting the front runners in Durban; in the past, the winners had reached Blue Lagoon to a small gathering of people because they had arrived so early in the day.
In the men’s race, Kime caught Zondi and had built up a 20-second lead by Burma Road, a notoriously tough six-kilometre long, hilly portage. By the next put-in, however, Zondi had turned the deficit into a lead of a minute and 40 seconds. He was on course for victory, but some tough rapids stood between him and victory.
At Pumphouse Weir, it all went wrong for the Change A Life Academy star. He took a swim and was separated from his boat. Kime took advantage, slipping past into the lead, and before Zondi could empty the water from his craft McGregor went past him too.
‘The biggest adrenalin rush of my life
Explaining his feelings at the time, Kime said: “It was really heartbreaking for him [Zondi], but, at the same time, I got probably the biggest adrenalin rush of my life. Suddenly I was paddling into the lead of the Dusi on the third day with only flat water to go.”
Kime couldn’t relax at all, however, with the powerful two-time flatwater marathon world champion McGregor trying to haul him in. But, with 10 kilometres to go to the finish, the biggest victory of his life was in sight.
The Stellenbosch University student pushed hard and went on to take the win in a day three record and overall race record time. “I think I got the record purely because of the final kilometre,” he reckoned. “I paddled faster than I have in my life. It was probably the loudest crowd that I have ever heard in my life and that just pushed me to a whole new level.”
Kime finished in a record total time of eight hours and 29 seconds, with McGregor second in 8:04:38 and Zondi third in 8:05:50. Defending champion Andy Birkett ended fourth.
For Zondi, it was a case of so near, yet so far. The crowd showed their appreciation for his fantastic effort by giving him a massive round of applause upon his arrival at Blue Lagoon, but the victory was Kime’s and there was the added bonus that he could await the arrival of his sister, who was on her way to her fourth consecutive Dusi win and her second in a K1 boat.
Robyn played it conservatively, portaging over Burma Road and Pumphouse Weirs. Abby Adie, in second place, knowing that Kime had such a big lead wasn’t trying to chase her. She was defending her position. After a wretched day of running on day one, she opted to paddle around Burma, but apart from that she too took a conservative approach.
‘I was so excited’
At Pumphouse Weirs, Kime learnt her brother had won the men’s race. “I definitely had extra energy after hearing he had won. I was so excited about it,” she said.
She went on to victory in race record time of nine hours, seven minutes and 16 seconds, over 14 minutes ahead of Adie, who had the fastest time on the last day.
Modestly, Kime said: “I’m very pleased. I think the race records, especially on day two and day three, were more due to the [high] water level than anything else. I certainly didn’t have a good day two. For some reason I was still under the record. I think it was just because of the huge water release that we had.”
A great success
For Kime, as it was for the top finishers in the men’s race, the reverse start was a great success. “It was great having so many people lining the banks. It’s also nice to have paddlers in that crowd.
Previously the crowd was made up of some seconds and people that don’t really know about paddling. Now it’s people who have already finished the race. They’re there on the banks. They know what it’s all about. It really adds to the vibe, having people there that are part of the race.”
“I believe it was fantastic,” commented Brett Austen Smith, the general manager of the Dusi organising club, the Natal Canoe Club. “The atmosphere here at the finish was absolutely awesome and there was great crowd participation. It has vindicated our decision.”
After a ding-dong tussle, Jen Theron pulled clear of Hilary Picthford for third place in the women’s race. Both took swims on the final day, but Pitchford’s proved to be the more costly.
The day, though, belonged to the Kime siblings. “I am very, very proud of them both. It was lovely to see it happen.” said their father, Patrick.
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