Durban - An incredible end sprint saw Christie Mackenzie win her first Dusi Canoe Marathon crown from a valiant Tamika Haw, while Andy Birkett fought illness to claim his ninth Dusi title at Blue Lagoon on Saturday afternoon.
The ladies race was always going to be a tight tussle into Durban with neither Mackenzie nor Haw giving an inch. The pair continued to match each other stroke for stroke right to the line where Mackenzie won a thrilling end sprint.
Day three consists of a number of tricky rapids but it is always defined by the infamous Burma Road portage. It was an enthralling battle of attrition as both paddlers took turns at the front on both the water and on the portages.
“It was a pretty nerve-wracking day for me to be honest!” Euro Steel/Varsity College’s Mackenzie said.
“Before the stage I told myself that I needed to keep it conservative and avoid making mistakes because I had made so many in the first two days.
“I couldn’t get my splash cover on at Tops Needle and so I started to panic but after that I managed to calm down.”
The portage up and over Burma Road was set to be a major decider in the contest for a maiden title between the two and it turned out that neither wanted to budge and they couldn’t be separated until the final few metres.
“I have never run up Burma Road so hard in my whole life!” Mackenzie added. “When we put in on the other side I was absolutely buggered and knew that I had to stay with Tamika because there wasn’t a lot left in the tank.
Mackenzie’s marathon prowess came to the fore at the death when she had to take on Haw in a flat end sprint and the Under-23 star believed that should it come down to it she would have the upper hand.
“Having an end sprint with her yesterday meant that I was fairly confident that I could pull it off today.
“I just wanted to make sure that I was pulling coming into the finish and I got myself in a good position at the end,” a relieved Mackenzie said.
Haw has tasted success at the Dusi in a K2 with two podium finishes but this was the closest she came to winning the race but across the line it was pure elation on her face.
Incredibly there was another end sprint in the ladies race to decide third and fourth.
Under-18 Amy Peckett proved she is a force to be reckoned with when she managed to catch Jenna Ward and then beat the marathon world championship medallist in an end sprint.
Young Tracey Oellerman finished in fifth place in the ladies race.
The men’s race threatened to be a procession with Euro Steel’s Birkett holding all the cards, however it was Euro Steel/Red Bull’s Khwela who showed that he wasn’t done and closed the five-minute gap to just one minute and 10 seconds at one stage.
Birkett, who is second on the all-time Dusi champions list, didn’t think that this year’s race was up there with his best.
“This year’s race dished out the hurt for me and last night I was man-down at about one o’clock and this last day was really hard work for me,” the three-time consecutive K1 champion said.
“I just tried to keep the momentum going today and I am sure that Sbonelo (Khwela) made up time on me on the flat section coming into the finish and I won’t lie I am happy to get to Durban and not suffering on the river anymore.”
Despite his incredible Dusi record Birkett believes that this year’s win was one of the toughest he has had to work for.
“This year was hard and last year was also tough but I think that every year has its challenges, but it’s the Dusi – it’s not an easy race,” Birkett mentioned.
It was clear that Sbonelo Khwela was out to make life as difficult for Birkett and, despite a silly swim at Tops Needle, he paddled and ran like a man possessed as he produced the fastest time of the day on Saturday.
“I think that the swim that I had was good for me because it calmed me down a lot and I managed to get a good rhythm after that,” Khwela said.
“After that I felt really good and I pushed hard onto Burma Road and I felt strong on the way up even though it wasn’t easy because of the mud.
“I cannot complain about my efforts today, and I feel that every year I am getting better because I am adapting my training and improving on my weaknesses.”
It was another lonely day for Thulani Mbanjwa as the veteran Euro Steel athlete finished in third place overall.
Khumublani Nzimande finished fourth while Andrew Houston rounded out the top five.
The under-23 men’s contest was also going to go to the wire and it was Euro Steel’s Stew Little who produced the goods on Saturday to claim the age group crown ahead of Mpilo Zondi in second and Maswenkosi Mtolo in third on a day that saw Alan Houston hamstrung by illness once again.
Maritzburg College’s David Evans finished in an impressive seventh overall and claimed the junior boys crown ahead of College team mates Hamish Mackenzie and Scott Little.
Peckett’s third also meant that she was the highest placed junior girl in the field ahead of Cara Waud in second and Shannon Parker-Dennison in third.
In what was another unforgettable moment of day three, Olympic medallist Terence Parkin, who has cycled, run and swum over 1120km from Johannesburg to Durban for the Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation, and his partner mark Mulder were forced to walk the final 16km to the finish after they broke their boat.
Parkin, who was in a moon boot after injuring his ankle running to the Dusi, walked on crutches while Mulder carried what was left of their boat and the pair swam across the line at Blue Lagoon.
More information can be found at www.dusi.co.za
SUMMARY OF RESULTS - Canoe Marathon Stage Three (Inanda Dam to Blue Lagoon)
1.Andy Birkett 2:31:23 8:09:48
2.Sbonelo Khwela 2:28:29 8:11:55
3.Thulani Mbanjwa 2:35:52 8:29:07
4.Khumbulani Nzimande 2:34:01 8:32:21
5.Andrew Houston 2:34:05 8:32:25
6.Carl Floscher 2:36:33 8:34:54
7.David Evan (U18) 2:37:36 8:35:54
8.Stewart Little (U23) 2:38:21 8:41:55
9.Hank McGregor 2:35:23 8:43:00
10.Mpilo Zondi (U23) 2:38:49 8:43:35
11.Owen Gandar 2:43:32 8:52:21
12.Banetse Nkhoesa 2:41:03 8:52:22
13.Maswenkosi Mtolo (U23) 2:40:48 8:52:32
14.Shaun Rubenstein 2:47:16 9:01:54
15.Alan Houston (U23) 3:04:31 9:06:40
1.Christie Mackenzie (U23) 3:00:38 10:00:11
2.Tamika Haw 3:00:38 10:00 12
3.Amy Peckett (U18) 3:05:29 10:28:07
4.Jenna Ward 3:08:46 10:28:09
5.Tracey Oellerman (U23) 3:22:31 11:23:11
6.Cara Waud (U18) 3:21:43 11:28:37
7.Shannon Parker-Dennison 3:41:14 11:58:52
8.Kim Peek 3:43:12 12:41:27
9.Melissa van Rooyen 4:07:30 13:02:59
10.Wilma Deyzel 3:55:49 13:13:15
1.Stewart Little 2:38:21 8:41:55
2.Mpilo Zondi 2:38:49 8:43:35
3.Maswenkosi Mtolo 2:40:48 8:52:32
4.Alan Houston 3:04:31 9:06:40
5.Thabani Msia 2:46:12 9:09:06
1.Christie Mackenzie 3:00:38 10:00:11
2.Amy Peckett (U18) 3:05:29 10:28:07
3.Tracey Oellerman 3:22:31 11:23:11
1.David Evan 2:37:36 8:35:54
2.Hamish Mackenzie 3:01:11 9:26:54
3.Scott Little 2:50:07 9:29:02
1.Amy Peckett 3:05:29 10:28:07
2.Cara Waud 3:21:43 11:28:37
3.Amanda Spires 4:17:21 13:22:40
1.Kwandokhulu Mzolo 2:48:13 9:36:59
2.Matthew Millward 2:55:57 9:39:40
3.Sanele Masango 2:27:30 10:13:07