Three flawless days from Andy Birkett and Abby Solms in the toughest conditions for more than a decade saw the pair march convincingly to respective men’s and women’s titles at the 2017 FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon finish at Blue Lagoon on Saturday.
Birkett’s three-day performance was one of class and experience as he didn’t put a foot wrong on his 120km trip to the sea. He has now tied with the ‘Dusi Duke’ Martin Dreyer with seven Dusi victories; the former finishing first in four consecutive races from 2014 to 2017.
‘I’m not surprised we didn’t have a water release on day three with the drought that we are experiencing, but this stage today was definitely the toughest stage of Dusi racing I have experienced,’ Birkett said.
‘It was a tough day and everyone really deserves their medals.
‘This year’s win has been quite special with the conditions and I can really appreciate sitting back and putting my feet up for a bit – maybe a bit of kite surfing.’
The race for second was concluded half way up the gruelling Burma Road portage as Euro Steel/Red Bull’s Sbonelo Khwela powered past Hank McGregor and into the distance to his best K1 place at the FNB Dusi.
‘I am really happy with my second and I don’t mind losing to a guy like Andy, he paddled so well. I’ve been working hard on my paddling, so to come second ahead of a guy like Hank McGregor is a great feeling,’ Khwela continued.
‘To keep focused on my own race today was very important to me and to not chase Hank on the dam. I managed to keep my cool and it worked for me.’
Before the start of the final stage on Saturday most punters would have put the podium positions to rest with McGregor and Khwela set to fight it out for third, however Build-it/Williams Hunt’s Thulani Mbanjwa (pictured here) had other ideas.
‘On day one I felt really flat and I was not happy with how I went, so I knew that if I could fix it over the next two days I would be in a good position. Today the legs felt really good and I just carried on powering on the runs.
‘I did have to look over my shoulder a bit to see if Hank was behind me, but I managed to hold him off, something I am proud of,’ Mbanjwa said.
Solm’s performance was unrivalled as she led the women’s race from the first portage on the opening day to the finish at the mouth to the Indian Ocean. It was a sublime way for the 27-year-old (pictured above) to wrap up her first FNB Dusi title.
‘I think I feel more relief than anything at the moment,’ Solms mentioned with a smile. ‘It was such a tough race, we had all the elements against us throughout, but I came into the race wanting to win and I managed to achieve exactly what I wanted.’
With 120km to navigate from start to finish, the margins for error become smaller and smaller as the race progressed, and despite a slight mishap on the second stage of the race Solms believes she was as close to her best as she could get.
‘You are never going to have a flawless race, but I was happy that I managed to put three really good days of paddling. I have put so much into this, so it is satisfying to get a good result,’ a chuffed Solms added.
Olympian Bridgitte Hartley (pictured during one of the portage stages) went into the final day in second and might have had the edge over the dam with her flat-water prowess, however when the paddlers were on their feet it was Mackenzie who came into her own.
‘I’m very, very happy with my result. I am still just trying to get my breath back from that stretch into the finish, but still over the moon with a podium finish.
‘I was so happy with how I went today considering my performance yesterday. I nearly felt like giving up on the dam but I am happy I pushed through today in such tough conditions.’
Hundreds of paddlers set off from Camps Drift on Thursday not entirely sure of what the three days of paddling would have in store with uncertain water levels and difficult environmental issues to consider. However, as is Dusi tradition, paddlers embraced the experience positively at the finish on Saturday.
‘It’s fantastic to see the unbelievable turnout of the competing paddlers, and spectators enjoy the incredible experience of taking part in this competition. We congratulate all the participants, especially the winners who showed impressive resilience all the way to the finish line,’ said Howard Arrand, KZN Provincial Head of FNB Business.
Stewart Little walked away with the Under-18 boys prize ahead of Mvelo Ngidi and Minenhle Mbhele in second and third respectively. Behind Mackenzie in the Girls under-18 category were Tracey Oellermann and Gemma Lawson.
David Evans was impressive over the three days, winning the Under-16 boys crown while Caitlin Mackenzie was the fastest Under-16 girl throughout the three days.
Results (Third stage – Msinsi Resort to Blue Lagoon – and overall time)
1 Andy Birkett 2hr 46min 53sec – 08:32:55
2 Sbonelo Khwela 02:50:14 08:56:22
3 Thulani Mbanjwa 02:52:59 09:04:29
4 Hank Mcgregor 03:03:21 09:09:31
5 Jakub Adam 03:00:28 09:11:56
6 Simon Van Gysen 02:59:02 09:15:43
7 Banetse Nkhoesa 03:07:28 09:24:07
8 Siseko Ntondini 03:05:56 09:25:56
9 Zonele Nzuza 03:07:04 09:25:57
10 Mpilo Zondi (U23) 03:03:34 09:28:03
11 Khumbulani Nzimande (U23) 03:09:45 09:36:18
12 Loveday Zondi 03:11:55 09:36:23
13 Murray Starr (U23) 03:13:12 09:39:44
14 Msawenkosi Mtolo (U23) 03:08:40 09:44:02
15 Nhlanhlayakhe Cele 03:08:41 09:44:02
16 Adrian Boros (HUN) 03:14:45 09:46:32
17 Lucas Mthalane 03:11:59 09:46:34
18 Sboniso Shozi (U23) 03:09:36 09:46:39
19 Carl Folscher 03:17:51 09:49:40
20 Nqobile Makhanya (U23) 03:17:53 09:49:43
1 Abby Solms 03:21.17 10:16:03
2 Christie Mackenzie (U18) 03:37:14 11:05:50
3 Bridgitte Hartley 04:11:45 11:26:41
4 Alex Adie 04:00:00 11:57:43
5 Kerry Segal (U23) 04:10:13 12:14:37
6 Caitlin Mackenzie (U16) 04:32:25 13:06:19
7 Kate Swarbreck 04:24:26 13:19:36
8 Debra Lewis 04:37:45 13:21:13
9 Cara Waud (U16) 04:45:49 13:29:54
10 Ronel Stevens 04:51:57 13:56:01
Under 23 Men
1 Mpilo Zondi 03:03:34 09:28:03
2 Khumbulani Nzimande 03:09:45 09:36:18
3 Murray Starr 03:13:12 09:39:44
4 Msawenkosi Mtolo 03:08:40 09:44:02
5 Sboniso Shozi 03:09:36 09:46:39
1 Kerry Segal 04:10:13 12:14:37
2 Holly Spencer 05:52:45 16:20:50
3 Julia Trodd 06:34:46 17:56:31
1 Stewart Little 03:10:52 09:49:48
2 Mvelo Ngidi 03:41:22 10:34:44
3 Minenhle Mbhele 03:45:07 11:11:21
4 Daniel Dillon 03:47:18 11:16:30
5 Sam Speed 03:55:09 11:23:43
1 Christie Mackenzie 03:37:14 11:05:50
2 Tracey Oellermann 05:14:40 14:44:21
3 Gemma Lawson 06:46:31 17:09:29
1 David Evans 03:39:31 10:28:05
2 Hamish Mackenzie 03:38:56 10:44:58
3 Sandile Mtolo 03:52:34 11:23:39
1 Caitlin Mackenzie 04:32:25 13:06:19
2 Cara Waud 04:45:49 13:29:54
Pictures courtesy of Anthony Grote/Gameplan Media