Hank rules the world | SASCOC - SASCOC

Hank rules the world

Durban’s Hank McGregor won the world marathon championship K1 canoeing title in Singapore on Saturday after he dominated the 35 kilometre race from start to finish, defying convention and leaving the canoeing world heaping praise on his peerless performance that left the field littered with former world champions reeling in his wake.

“I am utterly stoked!” said McGregor after the reality of the enormity of his achievement started to sink in. “I guess you can say it has been one hell of a year!” he added, reflecting on a year that has seen him totally dominating river, flatwater marathon and surfski racing, becoming the first paddler to hold every single and double title in a calendar year.

“I am so chuffed for my Team Best4 Kayak Centre and my supporters who backed me all the way, even when I was determined to do things differently,” he added. “I proved that it is possible to win a tough race like the Hansa Fish and then go on to win a world title two weeks later.”

McGregor attracted plenty of sceptical attention at the event because he chose to race a kayak fitted with pedals and an overstern rudder, made by a Durban kayak manufacturer, instead of using European sprint kayaks with understern rudders fitted with t-bars.

“I was so comfortable racing in a boat that I know well. It weighed in at a fraction underweight so I had to add some extra weight to my Attack, which I helped design with the kayak Centre team. I am so chuffed for them,” he said.

Racing in hot and humid conditions at the marina in Singapore harbour, using the unique floating soccer pitch for the 100 metre portage at the end of each of the seven laps, McGregor started alongside multiple world champ Manuel Busto Fernandes, defending champ Ben Brown of Britain and countryman Shaun Rubenstein, another former holder of the marathon world crown.

From the start McGregor took control of the race and by the second lap he was racing alone and pulling away, defying conventional tactics that see strong paddlers conserving energy for closing stages of the race. By the fourth lap he had more than a minute lead, and decided to play another tactical trumpcard that had the huge crowd of South African supporters holding their breath.

“I stopped paddling and put down my paddles for about 45 seconds,” said McGregor. “I was pulling away and felt totally in control, but I knew that the four-boat chasing bunch would have to work together to try and reel me in. It was really hot and humid so I just waited for them to catch me.”

Two former world champions fell by the wayside early on. Brown was an early withdrawal and soon after that the Spanish legend Busto also called it a day.

Once McGregor had rejoined the chasing group they tried desperately to shake him off in a series of intervals and aggressive tactical moves to try and force him off the outside of the bunch, but to no avail.

On the fifth lap portage McGregor stumbled at the takeout, dropping his paddle into the harbour waters. However he recovered his composure and put in a superhuman sprint that saw him race right back onto the bunch.

Once the bunch realised they could not shake McGregor off, they slowed the pace right down to try and conserve energy, banking on their chances of winning the endsprint. That allowed two following groups to catch them, increasing the front bunch to nine athletes going into the final lap.

McGregor’s superior barefoot portaging again set up perfectly and he streaked away in the lead with just his team-mate Rubenstein and a Spanish and Czech Republic athlete able to stay with him.

The final lap ended with an unusual turn 500 metres from the finish that took the field under a unique bridge on the Marina, and with the Czech paddler making a final charge, McGregor raced a carefully pre-planned line between two bridge pillars that could only allow one kayak through, forcing the front bunch into single file.

He turned for home to raucous support from the large South African Masters Cup contingent, and held on to win by half a boatlength, and claim his second world marathon K1 title.

“I didn’t plan to go it alone for the first half of the race, I was just feeling good,” said McGregor. “When I stopped I took time to have some juice and the decision to bide my time was just because I felt in control. Luckily I had enough gas in the tank at the end!”

The win will be particularly satisfying for McGregor, whose first world marathon championship title was accompanied by fury from the local Spanish supporters as Busto was sanctioned for his tactics in the final neck-and-neck endsprint with McGregor.

“The who’s-who of canoeing was here this year, which makes this win especially sweet,” said McGregor.

Conditions were difficult for the athletes, with extreme heat and humidity aggravated by choppy water and sizeable waves from passing ferries on the harbour. McGregor took on large amounts of water during the race and finished with a boat substantially heavier than he would have liked.

“The SA boys and girls cleaned up here,” said McGregor. “I guess anyone who has trained in the valley for the Dusi will be able to adjust to conditions like we had here.”

Earlier in the day, Cape Town’s Alexa Cole added a gutsy fifth in the women’s K1 race, while the junior boys and junior girls K2 crews added another four top 10 results.


Men’s K1
1 Hank McGregor (RSA)
2 Petr Jambor (CZE)
3 Ivan Alondo (ESP)
4 Shaun Rubenstein (RSA)

Women’s K1
5 Alexa Cole (RSA)