Knutsford Farm - Nail-biting action at the sharp end of both the men's and
women's race during Friday's opening stage of the 2016 Fish River Canoe
Marathon from Grassridge Dam to just below Knutsford Bridge saw defending
champions Hank McGregor and Abby Solms claim the day's spoils and bank
invaluable advantages over their chasers in the race for this year’s South
African K1 River Marathon Championships.
Eight-time ICF Canoe Marathon World Champ McGregor paddled a strategically
sound opening stage to narrowly edge out regular rival and World Champs
runner-up, Andy Birkett by one second in the dice for the finish line.
“Andy and I are number one and two in the world in marathon racing at the
moment and probably very similar in river racing strength so not having time to
catch up on him tomorrow is great while leading the race is the cherry on the
top,” said McGregor.
“There was some great sportsmanship out there today and some really top class
racers made it a top day on the river and I’m looking forward to another tough
day tomorrow,” he added.
Despite Euro Steel/Kayak Centre’s McGregor getting his nose in front, Euro
Steel’s Birkett was pleased with his first stage effort.
“I had a lot of fun out there today, there was a lot of banter going around and
Hank and I were even chatting right up until the finish and I just enjoyed
being back on the river,” said Birkett.
McGregor and Birkett found themselves locked in a three-way tussle with
hometown hero and Birkett's 2015 K2 winning team mate, Greg Louw for much of
Louw ultimately paid the price for the day's fast pace though as he fell off
the KZN based lead duo's tails in the final few kilometres to cross the line
“I can’t complain at all,” said an animated Louw. “There’s nothing wrong with
finishing behind the world’s first and second best marathon paddlers!”
A swim at Double Trouble Weir just 3.5km into the clash put Western Cape's
Jasper Mocké on the back foot from the get-go however the Euro Steel/Mocké
Paddling athlete dug deep to claw his way back into the top 10 by the end of
the day while a strong showing by Seed Co.'s Under-23 ace, Andrew Houston saw
him finish fifth.
Czech Republic's Jakub Adam was the first of the strong international
contingent home, finishing the day in sixth place, with junior flyer Jean van
der Westhuyzen - who also had to recover from a swim at Double Trouble - was
the first Under-18 competitor across the line and finished in seventh place
While many shone on day one, the 2016 Fish ended disappointingly abruptly
for others as top 20 hopefuls Banetse Nkhoesa and Alan Houston were forced to
withdraw due to hyperthermia and a stomach ailment respectively after just half
of the first day’s racing.
The women’s race was just as fascinating as the men’s, despite Solms going on
to finish the day the nine minutes ahead of her nearest rivals.
Euro Steel’s Solms - who spent much of the winter focusing on road running -
made her move early on before, due to the pressure of the star-studded women’s
field, the 27 year-old opted to shoot the notorious Keith’s Flyover Rapid for
the first time in her career.
Despite the obstacle’s renowned high risk, Solms sailed through cleanly and it
proved to be a decisive move that kept her chasers at bay for the rest of the
“I really didn't expect to end the stage this far ahead because I honestly
haven't put in the time in training,” explained Solms. “I do back myself in
terms of experience though, so that might be one advantage I have over the
“I felt so comfortable in the boat that yesterday I decided I was going to give
Keith's a go. I felt that I was going to need any advantage I could get, so I
was really happy to get through that cleanly.
"Tomorrow is a new day with a lot of obstacles as well as a lot of flat
water that will help the other girls who have been racing overseas, so it is
going to be a tough day and you couldn't ask for a better finish,” she added.
Triple Olympian, Bridgitte Hartley (Knysna Racing) made hard work for herself
as the three swims during the opening day meant she had to work hard to stay in
A determined effort saw Hartley cross the line in second place with the
ever-present Jenna Ward (Euro Steel) finishing a minute and a half adrift in
third place to be the first Under-23 Women’s boat to the finish.
“I had to fight really hard after my three swims today but I am happy with
where I am and with some longer flat sections tomorrow I will be able to put
the hammer down and want to have a good, clean run into the finish,” said
A welcome return to the canoeing world by former South African women’s paddling
force, Robyn Owen (Best 4 Sports) after a two and a half year absence from the
sport saw the diminutive talent finish the stage in fourth place.
While hoping to be as competitive as possible throughout this year’s Hansa
Fish, Owen primarily aims to use the event to erase a few coats of paddling
rust ahead of the next month’s Adventure Racing World Champs and her Team
Painted Wolf’s Coast to Coast multisport assignment in New Zealand in February.
Nicole Russell claimed fifth place after she, like Solms and Owen, shot Keith’s
Flyover successfully while Christie MacKenzie was the first Junior Women home,
finishing in sixth place overall.
Saturday’s second and final stage takes place between just below Knutsford
Bridge to Cradock Sports complex with the batches starting at 06:30 and the
elite racers getting their second day effort underway at 10:30.
More information can be found at www.fishmarathon.org.za
SUMMARY OF RESULTS - 2016 HANSA FISH RIVER CANOE MARATHON
STAGE ONE (GRASSRIDGE DAM - KNUTSFORD)
1. Hank McGregor 02:53.33
2. Andy Birkett 02:53.34
3. Greg Louw 02:55.14
4. Jasper Mocké 03:00.10
5. Andrew Houston (U23) 03:00.11
6. Jakub Adam (CZE) 03:02.43
7. Jean van der Westhuyzen (U18) 03:02.44
8. Clinton Cook 03:02.45
9. Sbonelo Khwela 03:02.50
10. Brandon van der Walt 03:03.34
11. Craig Heenen (U18) 03:03.35
12. Stuart MacLaren 03:03.35
13. Siseko Ntondini (U23) 03:03.37
14. Simon van Gysen 03:03.37
15. Kiko Vega 03:03.06
16. Don Wewege (U23) 03:06.07
17. Thulani Mbanjwa 03:06.08
18. Jacques Theron 03:06.09
19. Zonele Nzuza 03:07.30
20. Nicholas Notten (U23) 03:08.06
1. Abby Solms 03:11.05
2. Bridgitte Hartley 03:20.06
3. Jenna Ward (U23) 03:21.28
4. Robyn Owen 03:22.59
5. Nicole Russell 03:27.10
1. Andrew Houston 03:00.11
2. Siseko Ntondini 03:03.37
3. Don Wewege 03:06.07
1. Jean van der Westhuyzen 03:02.44
2. Craig Heenan 03:03.35
3. Mark Keeling 03:08.09
1. Jenna Ward 03:21.28
2. Morgan Ziegvogel 03:53.13
3. Lauren Felgate 03:55.37
1. Christie Mackenzie 03:34.21
2. Kyeta Purchase 03:43.51
3. Gemma Lawson 04:24.56