SA paddlers race into Fish record book

11 October 2011

Hank McGregor and Grant van der Walt became the first crew to win a hat-trick of victories in South Africa’s Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon on Saturday, and shattered the race record too after dominating the event from start to finish.

McGregor now holds every national single and doubles paddling title after having won a clean sweep of surfski, flatwater marathon and river marathon titles in the calendar year. He goes into the World Marathon Championships in two weeks’ time in prime form.

The pair, racing in the colours of the newly formed Team Best 4 Kayak Centre, posted a flawless final stage to lower the 2006 race record set by McGregor and Len Jenkins by a minute and one second.

‘Something special’

“It’s my fourth win overall and my third with Grant in three years, and to have broken the record at the thirtieth anniversary is something really special,” said McGregor.

“We conserved ourselves during the first hour as we knew we were out on our own, but we dug in after Gauging Weir, when we realised we could still break the race record.

“It was a completely different race from last year when we were completely blown at the finish. Things really worked out for us this time. Last year we had problems that cost us, but this year we had a really clean race,” he concluded.

McGregor and Van der Walt won by five minutes from the Cape surfski duo of Tom Schilperoort and Jasper Mocke, who provided the biggest surprise result among the elite men by upstaging the strong field of the country’s best river marathoners.

Fastest final stage time

They posted the fastest time on the final stage to snatch the Canoeing South Africa silver medal ahead of the flying Germans, Tobias Bong and Achim Overbeck, and overtook the flagging crew of sprinters Greg Louw and Mike Arthur, who slipped back to fourth place from their overnight second.

“It came down to a sprint finish,” said Mocke, who got engaged just days before the race. “We came over Gauging Weir first and put in a huge sprint, which gave us a nice gap going into Marlow portage, and that’s when we went for it. We paddled our hardest until the end to beat the Germans.”

The Germans were thrilled to make it onto the podium at the end of a race littered with accidents and misfortune.

“We had a much better day today, no trees and no blood, which was great, but we have realised we are no good at portaging,” said Tobias Bong. “We are extremely happy with our third.”

“We were doing 200m sprints only three weeks ago and so our lack of endurance was exposed,” said Arthur. “We’re so happy to have paddle into fourth place.”

Women’s title

The women’s title fell to Abby Adie and Hilary Pitchford, who also led the race from start to finish to post a 10-minute victory margin that included a conservative option to portage Cradock Weir to eliminate any further risk to their race.

“We were more than happy to run Cradock Weir. It’s a 50/50 shot and we didn’t need to shoot it at that stage of the race,” said Pitchford, who is currently leading the women’s standings on the International Canoe Federation’s world tour.

The pair was in superb form, shooting Keith’s Flyover rapid with aplomb on the first day, and they oozed confidence in their form and preparations on the river.

“This is my first time on the podium and first time on the top step and I’m absolutely over the moon,” said Pitchford. “It’s a dream come true. (Her boyfriend) Deon Bruss won it in his tenth Fish and so to have done it in my tenth is so special for me,” she added.


The silver medal fell to the plucky sprinters Tiffany Kruger and Jen Hodson, who had to battle through the pack after being started in the A-batch because they failed to make the elapsed time cut-off.

“It was a long day for us and we’re pretty tired,” said a tired Hodson. “Both of us are actually sprinters, so this sort of distance is a big ask.”

The last place on the podium went to Kim Brugman and Angie Gafney.



    1. Hank McGregor/Grant van der Walt 4:40.38
    2. Tom Schilperoort/Jasper Mocke 4:45.20
    3. Tobias Bong/Achim Overbeek 4:46.21
    4. Greg Louw/Michael Arthur 4:48.59
    5. Jacques Theron/Piers Cruickshanks 4:50.27
    6. Robert Knebl/ Tomas Slovak 4:50.28
    7. Andy Birkett/Pierre-Andre Rabie (U23) 4:53.57
    8. Alasdair Glass/Edgar Boehm Jnr 4:56.09
    9. Mark Mulder/Lance King 4:56.58
    10. Lance Kime/Stuart Maclaren 4:57.49


    1. Hilary Pitchford/Abby Adie 5:26.17
    2. Jen Hodson/Tiffany Kruger 5:36.16
    3. Kim Brugmann/Angie Gafney 5:44.33
    4. Jenna Ward/Brittany Petersen (U18) 5:46.14
    5. Debbie Germiquet/Carmen Blakeney 5:48.56

Under-23 Men

    1. Andy Birkett/Pierre-Andre Rabie 4:53.57
    2. Lance Kime/Stuart Maclaren 4:57.49
    3. Andrian Bam/Rory Sandberg 5:12.58

Under-23 Women

    1. Jenna Ward/Brittany Petersen (U18) 5:46.14
    2. Kerry Shuter/Camilla Pennefather (U16) 5:59.00
    3. Tamika Haw/Jenna Starr 5:59.49

Junior Boys

    1. Donavan Wewege/Gavin Shuter 5:04.49
    2. Blaine Beresford/Murray Starr 5:12.12
    3. Murray Haw/James Speed 5:21.19

Junior Girls

    1. Jenna Ward/Brittany Petersen 5:46.14
    2. Kerry Shuter/Camilla Pennefather (U16) 5:59.00
    3. Bianca Haw/Jordan Peek (U16) 6:05.10

SAinfo reporter

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