Durban - Between them, Andy Birkett and Lance Kime boast six Dusi Canoe Marathon titles.
Last year, after his fifth win in six years, Birkett joined an elite group of athletes who have won five or more Dusis - Gordie Rowe, Graeme Pope-Ellis, Peter Peacock, and Martin Dreyer - while Kime claimed a K1 victory in 2013.
To no one’s surprise, the duo are regarded as one of the leading title threats in this year’s K2 race, but Birkett believes more boats than ever could be in the running for the prestigious title.
“It is so great to see the level of the Dusi really picking up,” he said in a recent interview with The Witness at Blue Lagoon in Durban, where the race will finish on Saturday, February 20.
“In years gone by there would be two or three boats way ahead of the rest of the field in the top 10, and I think it is going to be a lot closer this year. There is a lot of depth and 15 guys who have been training as hard as they can just to get a top 10 finish.
“I think it will be a good Dusi in terms of competition, and also for the guys racing for the podium. It is not a one or two horse race. It’s anyone’s for the taking at the end of the day.”
Natal Canoe Club star Birkett and Kime, who is studying at the University of Stellenbosch, shared a training camp in Plettenberg Bay in December in an effort to work on their combination.
“We had a nice camp two weeks before Christmas and that was our first solid block of training after the Staminogro 50-Miler, so it was good to jump in the boat and spend some time together,” Birkett said.
The camp was also where the positions in the boat were decided.
Previously Kime had been the driver when the pair won the Ozzie Gladwin presented by Parklane SuperSpar, but in Plettenberg Bay, Birkett took over at the front.
“Until that point Lance was in the front. That’s when the mutiny happened. I was in a happier place being in the front and Lance doesn’t really mind what goes on, as long as he is still in the boat,” Birkett smiled.
After they participated in the Euro Steel Highveld Croc in January, the pair’s preparations suffered a setback when Kime was sidelined by illness for 12 days.
“Andy’s carried on with his training as per normal. I have had to sit out. Andy’s been lucky. I have been his designated driver for training sessions, so that has made his life easier,” Kime laughed.
“I am ready to give it stick again, for the last little push,” he added.
“We are all worried about what is going to happen on the three days of Dusi. We just have to make sure that we feel good then, both of us.”
Preparing for this year’s race has been a little different and challenging, Birkett said.
“This is my eleventh or twelfth Dusi now, and I have always been fortunate enough to spend lots of time on the river ... but there hasn’t been a Dusi since I started racing it where I haven’t been able to go down the river at all, because there is no water.”