Dusi Bridge - The opening stage of the 2015 Dusi Canoe Marathon was a
frenetic one as records aplenty tumbled at the hands of a fierce contest at the
front of the men’s field which ultimately saw four-time winner Andy Birkett
claim the race’s early advantage.
After a chaotic opening first few kilometres, normality finally returned on the
Campbell’s Farm portage as pre-race title favourites Birkett, Lance Kime, Sbonelo
Khwela and Thulani Mbanjwa – termed the ‘Fantastic Four’ ahead of this year’s
64th edition of the iconic 120km adventure - charged ahead of the chase pack.
The lead went back and forth between Kime, Birkett and Khwela throughout and
ultimately stole the lion’s share of the limelight however all four put in
powerful performances that saw the quartet all surpass the stage’s previous
record, set by Khwela in 2013.
“I actually thought that Sbonelo was going to be about three minutes ahead by
the end of the first stage and I also thought that Lance was going to beat me
but I knew I had to try and just hang in there,” said Birkett afterwards.
“It’s great to take the record back from Sbonelo,” he chuckled. “Sbonelo took
it from me two years ago and I was quite disappointed I’d lost it so it’s nice
to have it back!”
Characterised by its lengthy portages and with Birkett entering the clash with
a right ankle strain, many watched the opening stage curiously to see just how
well the former Under-23 Marathon World Champ would fare in the middle and
latter stages of the contest.
The young talent’s astute tactics once again shone through as he carefully
marked K1 defending champion Kime and major stage one running threat Khwela
before a surge over the final kilometres handed him a useful 25-second
lead going into Friday’s 42km second stage.
“Lance (Kime) and I were together for the whole day right up until just before
the finish. Sbonelo was ahead of us just after Campbell’s and Lance and I were
just trying to push the pace to minimise the damage that Sbonelo inflicted on
us on Guinea Fowl portage,” explained Birkett afterwards.
“We managed to catch him and from there we got to Finger Neck and Sbonelo put
in just behind us and we managed to put in a little bit of time on him on the
“With my ankle and how little running training I have actually done I am stoked
to be ahead on day one, I’m completely shocked to be honest!” he added.
Having worked well with Birkett throughout the stage, Euro Steel’s Kime crossed
the line in second place ahead of an exhausted and somewhat disappointed
Sbonelo Khwela (Euro Steel/Red Bull) in third.
““We always expected the portages to swing in the favour of Sbonelo; he’s a
brilliant runner so that was expected,” said Kime.
“Having seen Sbonelo’s form
in the pre-races though, his paddling is also really strong so I didn’t expect
that we would catch him so quickly on the water. Having two of us together did
play a big role though; it’s easier both mentally and physically because you
can ride each other’s wave!”
“This year all of the guys were really well prepared for the race and
especially the paddling and I knew that I had to pick up my game with my
paddling,” added Khwela. “My plan was to relax a bit on the paddle and make
sure that there wasn’t too much of a gap so I could catch them on the run.”
“At Guinea Fowl I thought that it was my chance to put the hammer down and try
make the guys struggle and I put in first after Geoff’s Road but just before
Mission Rapid I don’t know what happened, my body just shut down and I started
getting cramps in my arms.
“The guys caught me and I couldn’t even stay on their wave because I was so
As Khwela would know all too well after his stage three title challenge ending
mishap, a lot of racing is still to be done and lots can still happen so the
race is still alive.
For Birkett though, the buffer is a handy one as he now looks to fend off the
charging chasers on Friday’s second stage.
“I’m going to have to paddle scared and instead of trying to chase the guys as
I had thought I would have to do coming into the race. I have to try and keep
what little lead I have,” said Birkett.
Albeit a little off the lead three’s pace, Build it/Williams Hunt’s Thulani
Mbanjwa was fourth across the finish line ahead of an impressive Andrew Houston
(Seed Co.) in fifth.
Yet another strong presence by Martin Dreyer’s Computershare Change a Life
Academy paddlers in the overall top 20 was mirrored by the setup’s junior
competitors as Mpilo Zondi and Msawenkosi Mtolo followed Michaelhouse’s Alan
Houston across the line in the Under-18 boys race.
The second stage of the Dusi Canoe Marathon takes place on Friday 20 February
from Dusi Bridge to Inanda Dam. More information can be found at www.dusi.co.za
Day 1 results:
1. Andy Birkett 2:36.26
2. Lance Kime 2:36.51
3. Sbonelo Khwela 2:38.21
4. Thulani Mbanjwa 2:42.01
5. Andrew Houston (U23) 2:50.12
6. Zonele Nzuza 2:52.29
7. Owen Gandar 2:54.20
8. Murray Starr (U23) 2.54.22
9. Banesti Nkhoesa (U23) 2:54.22
10. Mhlonishwa Hlongwane (U23) 2:55.58
11. Jacques Theron 2:56.00
12. Carl Folscher 2:56.10
13. Murray Haw (U23) 2:56.54
14. Mthobisi Cele (U23) 2:59.30
15. Nqobile Makhanya (U23) 2:59.33
16. Richard Cele 2:59.58
17. Sboniso Shozi (U23) 3:00.41
18. Nhlanhla Cele 3:00.42
19. Alan Houston (U18) 3:00.55
20. Travis Wilson (U23) 3:02.04
1. Laura O'Donoghue 3:13:57
2. Cana Peek (U18) 3:30:21
3. Jordan Peek (U23) 3:38:11
4. Jane Swarbreck 3:40:51
5. Hilary Bruss 3:42:03)
6 .Jenna Ward (U23) 3:43:30
7. Natasha Bulbring 3:53:27
8. Donna Tutton 3:56:11
9. Christie Mackenzie (U16) 3:58:08
10. Marion Young 4:05:17
1. Andrew Houston 2:50.12
2. Murray Starr 2.54.22
3. Banesti Nkhoesa 2:54.22
4. Mhlonishwa Hlongwane 2:55.58
5. Murray Haw 2:56.54
1. Alan Houston 3:00.55
2. Mpilo Zondi 3:04.05
3. Msawenkosi Mtolo 3:07.09
4. Thabani Msiya 3:08.09
5. Charles Houston 3:10.14
1. Emanuel Zaloumis 3:32.06
2. Tumelo Elephant 3:44.57
3. Alex Masina 3:47.55