9 October 2012
After a titanic battle with Hank McGregor, Len Jenkins raced to a sixth victory in succession in the Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon on the weekend and with it claimed the 2012 South African K1 River title.
Jenkins and McGregor had been neck and neck for the majority of the two-day, 82 kilometre event and for the first time in decades it came down to an end sprint to separate the pair, with Jenkins edging ahead of McGregor just meters from the finish line.
Jenkins, dubbed the “Fisher King” for his uncanny dominance in the race for more than a decade, was full of praise for his adversaries after seizing control of the race in the closing stages when McGregor was slowed by waves in the Golf Course Rapids.
‘A good race’
“I’d definitely rank my first win in 2001 as the most memorable, but it’s still great to have one and it was nice to have a good race against Hank (McGregor),” said Jenkins afterwards.
“It was a different win. It was a really strong field this year and there were a lot of good guys here. Hank and Grant (van der Walt) are fantastic athletes, so it was tough.
“I tried not to do too much work today. With Grant just behind us, obviously he was always going to do his best to catch us and I could’ve tried to fight it, but I decided to take it easy instead and it paid off for me in the end,” he explained.
Having started the day together, the pair was caught by Van der Walt between Long Acre Bridge and Gauging Weir, and the three then made their way towards the notorious Cradock Weir.
Shot the weir
Jenkins and McGregor shot the major obstacle in the most unconventional manner when the two of them went over the weir at precisely the same time and remarkably both boats and paddlers paddled on unscathed, with Van der Walt left 20 metres off the pace.
“It used to be faster shooting from left to right, but since they removed the sandbank it’s actually quicker the other way around now, and so I made sure I was on the outside which gave me the chance to get going again first,” said Jenkins.
McGregor, however, was not done and put in a superb interval to catch and pace the defending champion. A rare mistake through Golf Course Rapid by McGregor gave Jenkins the gap he needed and through he went.
“After Len got away at Cradock, I managed to catch and pass him after a kilometre, but then I just hit a couple of stopper waves at the bottom, which really slowed me down and I just couldn’t get past again,” said McGregor.
“Full credit to him, though. He’s a phenomenal paddler, especially on the Fish River, and deserved the win. He timed it right and it all worked out for him.
“It was a good race, though. It was close the whole way and was anyone’s race all the way up until Cradock Weir,” he added.
Van der Walt had to settle for the third step on the podium, finishing 50 metres behind the leaders after a monumental effort on the second stage.
Local hero Greg Louw powered his way into fourth place ahead of Lance Kime and Cam Schoeman.
“I didn’t quite realise Cam was that strong and Lance was just impossible to shake off,” said Louw. “Cam had an unfortunate swim at Gauging Weir, though, and I went over Cradock Weir ahead of Lance, and from there I just put my head down and managed to get clear.
“There were six world champs in their various categories out there this year and only three of them finished ahead of me, so I’m very chuffed,” he smiled.
The overnight leader in the ladies’ race, Michele Eray, enjoyed a career highlight when she crossed the line ahead of former champion Robyn Kime to become the first Eastern Cape paddler to win the K1 title in 15 years.
It was a fitting victory as Eray emulated the late Daniel Conradie, who mentored her in her early years as a paddler.
“I’m absolutely over the moon,” said Eray. “Daniel won the Fish when I was in matric, so to now win the race myself all these years later and take over from him is amazing.
“The Sella and the Fish were the last two races he won before he passed away in 1998, and I won the Sella earlier this year and now this just incredible,” she explained.
The win was even sweeter for Eray after the former Olympian was forced out of action by a debilitating wrist injury for much of 2011. This year’s event was her first major race, other than her efforts at the recent World Marathon Championships in Rome, since August last year.
“Obviously I haven’t exactly had the most ideal preparation for this race, with not much time to train, so I just had to go with what I knew,” said Eray.
“Today was meant to be easier with it being shorter, but I actually felt worse than I did yesterday. I just tried to keep it at 90 percent throughout the day and a group of guys caught me early on, so I stayed with them until my swim at Gauging Weir.”
“Fortunately, I still had enough of a buffer to portage Cradock and I’m super stoked to have won,” she concluded.
Second and third
Kime claimed the silver medal, with her team Best 4 Kayak Centre team mate Abby Adie claiming bronze.
“I felt a little stronger today than yesterday, but Mich (Eray) was just too good,” said Kime. “It was a great race, though, and as always it was lots of fun.
“I also didn’t swim today, which helps things and which doesn’t happen often for me.
“I couldn’t see Mich by the time I got to Cradock, so decided just to go for it and it was great to make it cleanly,” she added.
Jenna Ward had a superb two days as she came home in fourth place, with ICF World Marathon Series champion Hilary Pitchford rounding out the top five.
Age group titles
Grant van der Walt claimed the men’s under-23 title ahead of Lance Kime and van der Walt’s younger brother Brandon, while it was Robyn Kime, Abby Adie and Jenna Ward who claimed first, second and third in the women’s under-23 section.
In the hotly contested junior boys category it was KZN’s Murray Starr who claimed the top spoils ahead of under-16 paddler Louis Hattingh and Murray Haw. The junior girls’ race was just as tight with Jordan Peek winning ahead of Kerry Segal and Kerry Shuter.
International paddlers figured prominently once again, with Australian Josh Kippen finishing 16th, just behind Czech Republic star Jakub Adam, who has committed five months to prepare for The Unlimited Dusi in February with his K2 partner Michael Odvarko, who finished 19th.
Olympic bronze medalist Brigitte Hartley, together with Nick and Paul Burden completed the event successfully together in a K3, while former Springbok captain Corne Krige completed his support of local schools when he crossed the line with race organiser Pieter Marais and Krige’s good friend Billy van Zyl.
- Len Jenkins 5:01.41
- Hank McGregor 5:01.41
- Grant van der Walt 5:02.12
- Greg Louw 5:08.07
- Lance Kime 5:09.40
- Cam Schoeman 5:10.27
- Jacques Theron 5:10.52
- Brandon van der Walt 5:15.11
- Ant Stott 5:15.19
- Thulani Mbanjwa 5:16.28
- Michele Eray 5:39.58
- Robyn Kime 5:42.39
- Abby Adie 5:47.08
- Jenna Ward 5:58.09
- Hilary Pitchford 6:01.39
- Jordan Peek 6:09.06
- Kerry Segal 6:09.39
- Kerry Louw 6:11.39
- Kerry Shuter 6:12.23
- Brittany Petersen 6:15.52
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