19 November 2013
Marathon world champion Hank McGregor showed why he is regarded by many as one of the greatest all-round paddlers of all time when he overcame a world-class field to claim victory in the 2013 Steelcase Dragon Run Surfski race in Hong Kong on the weekend.
McGregor, the first of five South Africans to finish in the top eight, was both relieved and surprised as he crossed the finishing line in record time. He was particularly pleased with his victory given the depth and standard of this year’s field.
After battling his way to a shock seventh position at the inaugural ICF Surf-ski World Championships in Portugal earlier this year, McGregor felt his victory on the weekend was a sweet comeback performance against an even stronger field than was present at the global showdown, given the likes of Australian Jeremy Cotter and fellow South African ace Dawid Mocke competing this time around.
‘A fantastic race’
“It was a fantastic race to win because everyone was there, even the guys who boycotted the World Champs,” McGregor said afterwards.
“Jeremy Cotter was there as defending champion and he was really gracious when he came up to congratulate me after the race.
“The win also gets a bit of a monkey off my back, having got two thirds in the last two years,” he added.
The triple world champion said an overhaul of his approach and a solid build-up campaign to the Asian clash played an important role in his success.
‘Feeling really good’
“I’ve come off a really good base with wins at [the Marathon] Worlds in Copenhagen, the Hansa Fish and the Vaal, so I have been feeling really good about my form.
“After last year, I took stock of where I was and made a number of changes. I changed boats, my training and my technique and I have been working hard at being more efficient and economical, and it seems to be working.”
With the conditions not offering much assistance and facing a quality field, McGregor knew he was in for a tough battle if he was to claim the win, and despite eventually finishing only fourth, the dangerous Cotter was the man McGregor had to keep a close eye on for much of the tussle.
‘A frantic pace’
“The race started off at a frantic pace, with testosterone flying everywhere! The front guys were in such a tight bunch at the turn around Nine Pin Island that you could have tossed a blanket over all of us,” McGregor reckoned.
“Once we got into the open ocean, and with a tail wind over our shoulders, the field spread out a bit.
“Jeremy [Cotter] was over my left shoulder after I got a lead at around the 12km mark, and I was continually checking to see where he was.
“By the time we got to the last turn at Kissing Whales I had a lead of about 250m and that was when I knew that I had it in the bag, unless a typhoon got in the way.
“The last five kilometres into the finish were basically flat. You can see the finish from some way out and if you are feeling tired there is absolutely nowhere to hide. Fortunately I was feeling pretty good and I was able to really enjoy the last kilometre and then it was a great feeling to finally cross the line,” he explained.
McGregor’s record-setting feat was something even he was surprised by given the unhelpful conditions. However, he believes the strength of his opponents and the recent rise in talent in the sport around the globe played a role in his achievement.
“I was pretty surprised to hear that I had broken the record [by two minutes] because conditions were not that favourable,” said McGregor.
“Dawid Mocke told me that when he won here he had averaged around 13.5 kilometres per hour, and we were going at over 14 km/h.
“I guess that’s a sign of the professionalism that has crept into surfski racing recently. The sport is evolving as more and more guys devote time to training specifically for major surfski events and everyone seems to be benefiting from this.”