21 February 2011
The rising star edged out the established star at Blue Lagoon in Durban on Saturday, as Andrew Birkett held off four-time champion Ant Stott in a sprint for the line to claim the title in the closest finish to the Dusi canoe marathon in its 60-year history.
The two shared the lead almost the entire way from Pietermaritzburg to Durban and, with 118 kilometres of tough racing over three energy sapping days not enough to separate the two men, it all came down to the final few metres before a victor emerged.
“It’s just incredible! Winning in a K1 is so special,” said a thrilled Birkett afterwards. “There’s no one else in the boat, it’s just you. There’s no one there to help motivate you or pick you up when you’re tired, so to win today after three long days is just fantastic.
“I don’t quite know where it came from, I’ve never out-sprinted Ant before!” he added.
‘What a phenomenal race!’
“Wow! Andy Birkett, what a phenomenal race! He raced all three days perfectly, he made no mistakes and all I can say is well done to him,” said an appreciative Stott.
“I had a great day today, all went well over the dam and I had a good run over Burma (Road) but in the end Andy was just that little bit better,” he reckoned.
Stott started the day with a slender one-second advantage over Birkett, but he quickly increased that to a healthy 45 seconds at the put-in at Tops Needle after he managed to tag onto the wave of a passing boat towards the end of the dam.
A strong performance by Stott leading up to the infamous Burma Road meant that he’d increased his lead even further to two minutes at the take-out. However the resilient Birkett wasn’t about to give up and he powered up Burma Road portage at an incredible pace to ultimately open up a 45-second lead of his own at the put-in.
“In training I’ve put in some really strong runs up there and today was probably just a little off my best time. I tried to really put the hammer down after that but Ant came back at me and caught me quite quickly,” said Birkett.
The two Maritzburg College old boys then negotiated the troublesome hyacinth near the Papwa Sewgolum Golf Course together, but it was straight back to business after that.
“We’d been chatting for quite a while, just chilling and Ant eventually turned to me and said for the next 30 minutes we’re enemies until we cross that line!” related Birkett.
Michael Mbanjwa had long forgotten a disappointing performance on day one and looked to continue in the same vein as he’d finished in on day two. Showing good form, he finished third.
“I had a really good day today,” he said. “I knew at the start that the gap was probably too big to catch the front two, so I just had to focus on my own race and try not make any mistakes.
“I still had to go hard because I knew Eric (Zondi) and Lance (Kime) were just behind me.
Fourth place finisher Eric Zondi described his final day: “I’d been pulling with Lance for a while and eventually got past him on one of the pathways going up Burma, which was relief for me because my legs were feeling good and he was walking. But Michael was too far ahead and I’m just really happy with how the race went for me.”
In the ladies’ race, Robyn Kime could afford to back off slightly after she had opened up a massive lead of 17 minutes over the first two days.
“It was a hard day today. It was all mine to throw away, so I just tried to play it safe. I went over Burma and I definitely think organisers should consider banning that next year,” chuckled a tired but happy Kime.
“I’m really chuffed with the win, and especially considering it is the 60th anniversary of the race and the Graeme Pope-Ellis memorial,” she added. “It’s definitely one I’ll cherish at the end of my career.”
The young Maties student finished 20 minutes ahead of Abby Adie, and in so doing broke both the under-21 women’s stage record and the overall record. Birkett also established a record in the under-21 category. It previously belonged to Len Jenkins.
Murray Haw fought hard for the junior boys’ title. Gavin Shuter put in a strong performance, but it wasn’t enough and Haw cruised to victory.
Haw’s younger sister Bianca looked in complete control of the junior girls’ category throughout the three days and she walked away a comfortable winner after crossing the line just ahead of her older sister Tamika, who was second in the under-21 category.
- Andrew Birkett (U21) 8:06.08
- Ant Stott 8:06.09
- Michael Mbanjwa 8:15.22
- Eric Zondi 8:22.22
- Hank McGregor 8:26.23
- Lance Kime (U21) 8:26.29
- Len Jenkins 8:46.44
- Piers Cruickshanks 8:48.19
- Mark Mulder 8:53.31
- Shaun Griffin 8:53.32
- Kwanda Mhlophe (U21) 8:55.03
- Thomas Ngidi 8:58.37
- Nhlanhlayakhe Cele (U21) 9:03.19
- Richard Fly 9:04.14
- John Ngcobo 9.04.15
- Ben Biggs (U21) 9:06.41
- Zonele Nzuza 9:06.43
- Richard Cele 9:06.47
- Marc Germiquet 9:06.48
- Craig Carter-Brown 9:07.47
- Robyn Kime (U21) 9:37.33
- Abby Adie 9:58.14
- Hilary Pitchford 10:19.37
- Alex Adie 10:36.20
- Donna Winter 10:46.54
- Bianca Haw (U16) 11:07.59
- Tamika Haw (U21) 11:08.00
- Brittany Petersen (U18) 11:19.54
- Nicola Irvine 11:29.51
- Mandy Rawlins 11:32.01
- Murray Haw 9:10.59
- Gavin Stuter 9:17.16
- Siseko Ntondini 9:33.50
- Andrew Houston 9:35.02
- Andrew Adie 9:39.31
- Bianca Haw (U16) 11:07.59
- Brittany Petersen 11:19.54
- Kate Arnott 12:19.19
- Jenna Ward 12:23.14
- Heather McEwan 12:50.07
Would you like to use this article in your publication or on your website? See: Using SAinfo material