10 June 2014
World Marathon Champion Hank McGregor entrenched his status as the continent’s premier paddler by mastering the icy Highveld weather and a large and very powerful field to claim his eighth South African Marathon K1 title in Benoni on the weekend.
The three-time world champion outsprinted Jasper Mocke and under-23 world champion Andy Birkett to win a tightly contested K1 affair on Saturday, and then teamed up with Mocke to add the K2 title on Sunday.
‘Tough racing at altitude’
“It is tough racing at altitude for us coastal guys,” he said fterwards. “You can’t just go out like a bull in a china shop and you need to conserve your energy and keep the heart-rate down, so I am really happy with my performance this weekend.”
McGregor was up against a tough field and explained that he knew his tactics were going to have to be spot-on in order to take victory, which would secure him a place in the South African team for the Marathon World Championships in Oklahoma City in September.
‘A really high quality field’
“It was a really high quality field and so I knew that tactically I had to be on point, and I think I managed to outsmart the others, which gave me the edge,” he reckoned.
“I felt really comfortable throughout the race and it was a case of everyone gunning for positions with World Champs places up for grabs.”
The Durban-based McGregor had only recently returned from the Gruelling Maui Jim Molokai Surfski Challenge in Hawaii and so felt that he was a little underdone in terms of his marathon preparation, but with the World Championships a few months away his focus has shifted to marathon training.
Shift of focus
“I have been doing a lot of surfski training recently and so marathon hasn’t been the main focus for me, but with the Worlds in September I will be focusing a lot more on marathon paddling and portaging as well,” McGregor said.
The paired up with fellow surfski ace and Dusi Canoe Marathon partner Jasper Mocke in the K2 event to take the title ahead of the Van der Walt brothers, Grant and Brandon.
The win meant that McGregor has now won five K2 SA Marathon titles. He said he felt that the impressive performances by South African paddlers on the national stage have led to a great interest in marathon paddling.
‘World titles and medals’
“We have got a strong history of bringing home world titles and medals from marathon events and I think that this helps to get people interested. Not only the youth are getting involved but the masters have also become more involved,” he said.
The 2014 edition of the SA Marathon Champs was one of the largest in the history of the event with hundreds of paddlers braving single-digit temperatures to show their worth against the best paddlers in the country, with dreams of being on the plane to Oklahoma in September. The large subscription to the event was something that overwhelmed by McGregor.
“When you look back at the SA Champs last year, I was so taken aback by the numbers that we saw out there this year,” he exclaimed.
“It was so great to see so many people getting involved in such a well-run event and it was not just the senior categories, but there were a number of junior paddlers that were involved and that is exciting to see with a World Marathon Championships here in South Africa in 2017.”
Women’s K1 winner
The women’s K1 title was won by Olympic bronze medallist Bridgitte Hartley, who powered her way to the win on the back of a solid Sprint World Cup campaign in Europe. She dominated proceedings with a mammoth four-minute gap between her and second place finisher Nikki Russell.
The K2 title went the way of Abby Adie and Laura O’Donoghue, who edged out Hayley Arthur and Jenna Ward by one second for the honours.
Runner-up to Andy Birkett at the 2013 World Marathon Champs, Brandon van der Walt proved too strong for the competition in the under-23 category as he beat fellow Western Province paddler Stuart Maclaren for the title, while Jenna Ward won the women’s under-23 category from Brittany Petersen.
The under-18 division was also a tightly contested affair with the Kwazulu-Natal pair of Louis Hattingh and Bryan Leroux fighting it out for the K1 title, with Hattingh sneaking it from Le Roux by four seconds.
The girl’s race was not as close as Julia Trodd raced away from the chasing bunch to win by two minutes over Australia’s Bronwyn Martin.
Le Roux earned a gold medal in the K2 event with Western Cape paddler Stuart Bristow, while Trodd did the double when she won the under-18 girls’ K2 title with Donna Hutton.
Veterans and Masters
The huge field of 441 entries included a large field of veteran and masters age group paddlers, contesting the places in the national team that precedes the marathon world championships every year.
The event, held at Homestead dam and superbly hosted East Rank Kayak Club and the Gauteng Canoe Union, underscored the strength and interest in the discipline of flatwater marathon racing, given the consistent success enjoyed by South African paddlers internationally over the past decade.