Cape Town - The 67th edition of the iconic Dusi Canoe Marathon looks set to
live up to all of the pre-race hype as the country’s finest river
marathon paddlers fight it out between Pietermaritzburg and Durban from
Thursday to Saturday this week.
In what has been seen as one of the most
exciting K2 Dusi combinations in the modern era, the K1 marathon gold
medallist and two-time Dusi winner Hank McGregor has teamed up with K1
marathon silver medallist and seven-time Dusi winner Andy Birkett.
The duo, whose rivalry has blossomed into a friendship, will
undoubtedly carry the favourites tag onto the start line at Camps Drift.
Birkett has won seven of the last eight Dusi’s, his only
blemish being a fourth in 2013 in the K1 showdown that was won by Lance
Forty-year-old McGregor’s last Dusi triumph came in 2006 when he
won with Martin Dreyer to go with his K1 victory to year before.
With nine Dusi gold medals between them, the second most in 2018
being Ant Stott with four wins, and a punishing training programme the
smart money will be on them to reach Blue Lagoon first.
Hoping to put pressure on the Birkett/McGregor combination will be
2014 winner Sbonelo Khwela and his new partner Siseko Ntondini.
The Euro Steel/ADreach pairing will be an intimidating force with the
boat on their shoulders but their ability to navigate the Msundusi and
Mngeni Rivers will be paramount if they are to mount a significant
Ntondini is no stranger to the top ten of the Dusi and Khwela has
spent the last five years in the top three but only has one victory to
show for it. This drive for the top step of the podium could well fuel
their challenge over the 124km journey to the coast.
Amongst the other title contenders will be the Mooi River brother duo
of Alan and Andrew Houston as well as the experienced Ant Stott who
will be paddling with the exciting Banetse Nkhoesa.
The Houstons, who were sitting in third place overall in 2016 before
illness got the better of them before the start of the final stage, are
an organised crew that will be strong through the water as well on their
feet and could provide the recipe for an upset.
It’s been a quiet build up for Stott and Nkhoesa but they too have
the pedigree and the drive to push the favourites. It has been 20 years
since Stott won his first Dusi title and he is hoping for a fairy-tale
The women’s race at this years’ Dusi showdown is going to be a
mouth-watering affair with no one specific crew standing up and owning
that favourites tag.
If one could separate the top three pairs, one might give the Euro
Steel/Max Paddles backed sister duo of Jordan and Cana Peek (pictured
above). The two have been in strong form in the build-up to the Dusi
with wins at the 50 Miler as well as the Campbell’s to Dusi Bridge race
setting them apart from the rest of the hopefuls.
Despite the Peek’s strong build-up to the race, they have been racing
against a slightly weaker field with Jenna Ward’s partner Vanda Kiszli
only jetting in from Hungary in the first week of February.
Ward and her Hungarian powerhouse Kiszli finished fourth in last K2
showdown in 2016 and with that added experience will also be a crew to
watch out for. Ward’s preparation has been strong with her taking part
in many of the pre-Dusi races in a mixed K2 as she hones her river
skills as well as strengthens her running.
Kiszli, who is the senior K1 women’s marathon silver medallist, is
incredibly strong in the back of the boat and having experienced what
the race is about, she will know what to expect this week.
The third ladies crew to keep an eye on will be the Euro Steel pair of Bridgitte Hartley and Christie Mackenzie.
Mackenzie showed her prowess when she ran herself to second at the
2017 Dusi ahead of Hartley who came third, and as a combination they
have gelled well in the build-up leading up to the race.
Mackenzie, who is only in her first year of Under-23 will be steering the
boat with the power being provided by Olympic bronze medallist Hartley
from the back.
The races for the age group prizes always offer up some excitement
and 2018 will see the Under-23 crown hotly contested once again.
Stewart Little and Khumbulani Nzimande have been in going well but
will have a tough three days out with 2017 Non-Stop Dusi Canoe Marathon
champions Mthobisi Cele and Mpilo Zondi also eyeing the Under-23 title.
From a junior girl’s perspective it looks like it is going to be a
fight between two Epworth crews. Tracey Oellermann and Cara Waud have
been strong throughout the pre-Dusi races and they will be up against
the Caitlin Mackenzie and Amy Peckett pair for a spot on the top step of
the junior girls’ podium.
From the 50 Miler to the Campbell’s to Dusi Bridge, two junior boys
crews have come to the fore with each taking home one win each. Dominic
Leslie and Sam Speed took home honours at the Campbell’s to Dusi Bridge
while Hamish Mackenzie and David Evans won the Under 18 crown at the 50
Evans and Mackenzie won the Junior Boys K2 marathon silver medal last
year and finished in an impressive fifth overall at 50 Miler which
might give them the edge.
Once again the 2018 Dusi Canoe Marathon will see stand-up
paddleboarders taking part. This year will see the South African SUP
champion Dylan Fick along with stalwarts Jon Ivins and Brendan Germaine
taking on the three days.
The first day of the 2018 Dusi Canoe Marathon gets underway at Camps Drift in Pietermaritzburg at 06:00.