Durban - For the past three years, South African paddling legend Hank McGregor has been crowned the ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships K1 winner.
While not completely ruling out a title defence this year - he termed his chances “very slim” - McGregor suggested his marathon career might be over.
Speaking to The Witness in an exclusive interview, he admitted that he has been finding it difficult to focus on marathons again this year.
He also cited other factors for not defending his title in Brandenburg, Germany, saying: “There is no funding, so it’s a self-funded trip. You have to travel to Europe and there is no prize money. There are no incentives from our country or anything like that, so it’s difficult for me to send my boat over there, especially with the exchange rate at the moment.”
McGregor is a six-time gold medal winner at the World Championships and one of the finest all-round paddlers in history. He won his first World Championships gold medal in Valladolid in 2003 and in recent years has through his consistency proved to be the world’s best K1 paddler.
He picked up K1 gold in Singapore in 2011, another singles title in Copenhagen in 2013, the K1 and K2 titles in Oklahoma City in 2014, and the K1 title last year in Gyor, Hungary.
Now, though, his demanding schedule is catching up with him. He is married and holds down a full-time job, but, at the age of 38, something has to give and marathon racing appears to be that thing. “It’s very hard for me to go over there for personal pride to retain my title. It’s getting harder and harder and I am not getting any younger,” he said.
Pietermaritzburg’s Natal Canoe Club is set to host the 2017 ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships and McGregor said he would consider trying out for the South African team next year.
Brett Austen Smith, who is organising the 2017 Worlds, commented: “We certainly hope that Hank will make himself available for selection. He’s an iconic South African marathon paddler, the most decorated men’s paddler in the entire world. Being South African, we would really, really like him to be on the start line. We hope this is just a temporary situation that is applicable to this year only.”
Last year, McGregor made the very long flight back from the Molokai Challenge in Hawaii just two days before the South African Canoe Marathon Championships and was beaten into second place by Andy Birkett. That runner-up finish, though, was good enough to earn him a place in South Africa’s team for the World Championships in Gyor, where he pulled off a stunning victory.
To contest the South African Championships this year, McGregor would have to go through a similar ordeal.
Not this time, he has decided.
His decision to skip the World Championships comes at the same time that South Africa’s long time team manager Steve Jourdan has stepped down from the position. His decision was partly based on his belief that few paddlers would be able to afford to compete in Germany.
McGregor will remain busy on the surfski circuit around the world. He explained it is well supported internationally and comes with financial rewards. After his Hawaii trip, he plans to take part in races in Mauritius, Europe, the U.S. and Australia later in the year.
“I think maybe now it is time for me to hang up my paddles and concentrate on surfski,” he said.