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Champ Hank on his 2011

Recently crowned men’s K1 marathon world champion, our Hank McGregor has been named November’s International Canoe Federation (ICF) Athlete of the Year.

McGregor won his world title in Singapore and has indeed had a stellar year to date, including victory in the hotly contested Hansa Fish River Marathon in Cradock, Eastern Cape.

It’s McGregor’s second K1 marathon world title, having claimed in back in 2003 as well. He’s also the first South African to win both the K1 and K2 in flat water racing, surfski and river canoeing, and to dominate both the Fish River and Berg River canoe marathons.

McGregor is clearly not one to sit on his laurels, he has already set his sights on being classified ÔÇ£the bestÔÇØ an accolade now held by 10-time canoe marathon world champion, Manuel Busto Fernandes of Spain who is ranked number one in the ICF Classic Marathon Series. It is an achievement that McGregor is still striving for whilst trying to achieve success across all fronts. For his remarkable year and achievements, South Africa’s Hank McGregor is the November ICF Athlete of the Month.

After his world title win, McGregor took time out to chat to the ICF’s website and offered some insight into his lifestyle

The ICF’s Congratulations Hank on what has been nothing short of an extraordinary year for you; you have conquered the rivers, flatwater marathon and surfski racing, and you are the first paddler to hold every single and double title in a season. What do you attribute this success to?
What can I say, I have had a dream year. I think I can attribute my success to experience and of knowing my own body better to be able to reach a high enough level that enables me to contend for the titles in the various disciplines of paddling. I think also a big factor is really that I enjoy paddling no matter where or what discipline ÔÇô it is just such a great sport to be part of!

You completely dominated the 35-kilometre Men’s K1 race from start to finish, which goes against the norm; walk us through your race strategy?
I wouldn’t say completely dominated, more like having a great race at the one race you always dreamed of, and having your best day out .Yes I went against the norm, but that’s the way I was brought up to race by my father; he believed that I could break away (at any time) and win. I did it at Junior World Marathons in Sweden 1996 and won. After that he said that I could do it at the Senior level as well, so I guess he knew me better than I did .Thanks dad.

During the race you slowed down until the other competitors could almost catch up to you, and then you pulled away again; what was that about?
I guess I was just testing the field and myself at the same time; it’s not every day you get to test yourself against the best of the best in marathon racing. If you want to win you got to get out there and go for it. I know it’s not always the way, or the norm of marathon racing that legends would preach, but it sure makes it exciting for the spectators (smile).

Two weeks before the Canoe Marathon World Championships you won the Hansa Fish Marathon, everybody knows what a physically demanding race that is, to recover from that race, travel the distance to Singapore and take the competition apart (again), how were you able to prepare physically and mentally for the World Championships in such a short time?
Back home the Fish River marathon is one of the biggest and most enjoyable races in our country, and it is guaranteed water, so missing it would be a real shame. I chose to do it knowing it would be a hard two days of back to back marathon racing and for me there is no better way to prepare for a race than racing itself. The mental aspect and travelling I guess is what international competitors deal with and you just take it in your stride.

Which is the toughest course to race on and why?
It’s hard to say which is the toughest marathon course but rather the fact that you racing against the best in the business makes any course tough. Singapore however was tough because of the heat and humidity factor.

At the World Championships you were pitted alongside the defending World Champion Ben Brown (GBR) and Manuel Busto Fernandes (ESP), who has won the competition a number of times; were there any nerves before the race? What is your relationship like with the other top marathoners?
Nerves? Of course I was nervous, that’s when you know it means something to you! When starting with the best of the best in marathon racing at the World Champs I would say it’s a combination of nerves and excitement, knowing that all your training will soon be put to the test.

There are a number of high profile Sprint paddlers that take part in the Marathon World Championships, which one of them do you think can give you a run for your money?
I think the sprinters are the wild cards .They have the advantage of true speed and no pressure. The likes of Ben Fouhy (NZL), Shaun Rubenstein (RSA) coming off the sprint circuit and also having medalled in World Marathons would always be a threat.

If you had to go one on one with another marathon paddler, who would it be and why?
I would have to say Manuel Busto Fernandes (ESP), because he is a legend in marathon racing. He is a true champion and beating him won’t come easy.

How did you get started in paddling? Did you play any other sports?
I started paddling when I was 6 years old. My father was one of our countries best paddlers so I just followed in his footsteps. Yes I did a lot of lifesaving and athletics, as well as water polo, swimming.

Which is your most memorable race so far and why?
This World Champs has to be right up there with the best of them, but beating Clint Robinson in the Molokai Challenge 2009; he is like my role model and we went head to head until he dropped off and I went on to win. After the race he congratulated me and that feeling of him giving me recognition of my win really meant a lot to me.

You have also moved up the ICF Ranking in the ICF Marathon Classic Series, what do you think of the series and will you be taking part in Ardeche Marathon in November?
I think the series is fantastic, I only found out about it late in the season, but next year my sponsors Team Best 4 kayak Centre have told me that they will try to get me to more of the races. I would really like to win this year’s series but I have other races that I have committed so I will have to pass on the Ardeche this year.

When you are not on the water, what do you do to relax?
When I am not working or racing I love to spend time with my girlfriend Pippa and my dogs .We go for long walks on the beach and just play in the waves .The sea air always seems to relax me.

Do you have any role models or persons you admire? Why?
Yes, I admire many great athletes because I understand and appreciate what time and effort they had to put into their sport to reach the top, and to try stay there as long as possible. My father is my role model because of his winning mind set ÔÇ£First is First and Second is NothingÔÇØ; he taught me the meaning of winning and I will always thank him for that.

Where is your favourite place in the world?
I don’t have a favourite place at the moment, for me it’s not where you are but who you with, so where ever Pippa and the rest of my family and close friends are I would say is my favourite place in the world.

You have seemingly done it all this year, what is next for Hank McGregor?
Next for me on the racing front would have to be The Dubai Shamaal at the end of November this year, it’s the one surf ski race that I would like to win. I have come second before, but like my dad says ÔÇ£First is First and Second is NothingÔÇØ so we will just have to wait and see.


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