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SA canoeists aim for world’s No1 ranking
- Updated: September 18, 2014
South Africa is aiming for top spot in the world of men’s kayak marathon racing at the ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships in Oklahoma City, US which run from 23-28 September, writes Brad Morgan.
‘I really think finishing as the top kayak team is a very realistic and attainable goal,’ team manager Steve Jordaan said this week.
‘Last year in the men’s kayak we ended up second in the world behind Spain. We were second by one point and my ultimate dream is that we finish as the top kayak men’s racing team in the world. Certainly, we have got to be in the top three.’
The team will be headlined by Hank McGregor, the defending K1 world champion (pictured above), who also won the world title in 2003 and 2011. In total, including the Masters World Championships competitors, the South African line-up features seven reigning world champions.
‘The beauty of the team at the moment is that everybody is firing on all cylinders,’ Jordaan enthused. ‘Hank [McGregor] and Jasper [Mocke] are absolutely flying. Andy [Birkett] and Greg Louw in the other K2, who beat them at the Breede Canoe Marathon, and were also successful at the Sella [Descent in Spain, where they finished third], are also flying. If those two boats work together, we have a very, very good chance of one, if not two, podium positions.’
While his preparations have not been seamless, McGregor said he feels he is in good form: ‘I’ve carried a bit of a calf injury for the last month-and-a-half, so my running hasn’t been up to scratch, but I am sure when race day comes I can put that behind me. Other than that, my paddling has been really good. I have had a good build-up and I’m feeling strong and putting together some good times in training,’ he said.
Jordaan, meanwhile, is also expecting good things from the South African women. ‘Abby [Adie] and Laura [O’Donoghue] are going exceptionally well at the moment and I think they could be our surprise package. I think winning the Sella [Descent in Spain] really bolstered their confidence. They needed that to know they can compete at international level. That’s going to be a big factor for them in Oklahoma City.’
‘After winning Sella, we’re entering the World Champs with a totally different mindset,’ Adie reckoned.
‘I feel good and I think that comes from having the extra help from the High Performance Programme at Natal Canoe Club. Just yesterday Laura and I were saying that we have seen such an improvement from when we first started on it, and it has happened in such a short period. Going forward it is only going to get better. Training, seeing a dietician, sessions with a sports’ psychologist all help.’
Interestingly, Adie said she felt more confident heading into the World Championships than she had felt ahead of the South African Championships. ‘Training twice a day, two or three times a week, was a new thing. Now we understand it; all of those extra sessions count for so much and help. I think we can go into the World Champs a lot more confident than we were at the South African Champs! I think we were totally unprepared in comparison. It has been a good build-up,’ she explained.
McGregor will team up with his regular K2 partner Mocke in the doubles’ race, while he will face Mocke in the singles’ competition. It’s a relationship that he believes will serve both men and the South African team well.
‘What is really great – like last year when I raced with Grant van der Walt, and we were also doubles’ partners – is that it is nice to have an ally on the water. Jasper and I are close friends. When you’re racing against some of the best paddlers in the world, it is always good have an ally on the water that you trust.
‘We know each other really well from surfski racing and the South Africans stick together when we compete internationally. You don’t do anything deliberate to get rid of each other, so if we can work together at World Champs it would be great to get two guys on the podium,’ McGregor reckoned.
Brandon van der Walt, who was edged out for the Under-23 K1 world title by Natal Canoe Club’s Birkett in 2013, will be back for another shot at the crown that his brother Grant previously won.
McGregor, the junior world champion in 1996, is close to the Van der Walt brothers and believes Brandon has what it takes to follow in the footsteps of his older brother.
‘Brandon has been there and done that. He won the junior (U18) World Championships after his brother won it. Only three junior boys from South Africa have won the world title. It is pretty cool that we kept it in our little circle,’ McGregor said.
‘Brandon has all the potential in the world. He knows what to do. He has been on the podium, so everything is there on paper. It is just about putting it together on the day.’
Jordaan also has high hopes for the emerging talent in the U18 competition. ‘Our U18 boys have done exceptionally well in their own right. But the U18s is a very difficult race to call because you don’t know who is competing from the other countries. In the seniors and the U23s, you have a pretty good idea who your opposition is. The U18 boys’ is less predictable,’ he said.
‘One of the problems we have is that we sit at the southern tip of Africa. We don’t know what the boys are doing in Europe. We’re not sure who is who in the zoo. But between Louis Hattingh, Bryan Leroux, Stu Bristow and Jean van der Westhuyzen, they have all proved themselves in the U18 group. It is the first Marathon World Championships for all of them. I think they have a chance to stand up and be counted.’
With Europe being the traditional powerhouse of world canoeing, Jordaan believes that holding the World Championships in the USA is a good thing for the South African team.
He explained: ‘Competing in the USA has to level the playing field of competition against the leading European nations. I believe we travel much better than they do because we travel continuously, where they jump in their vehicle and go across the border.
‘Also, it looks like it is going to be pretty hot over there, Durban-like temperatures. I think that has got to be an advantage for us as well. We’re used to racing anywhere. The conditions don’t faze us to the same extent as they do the Europeans. They’re out of their comfort zone. We’re in our normal comfort zone.’
Picture: Gameplan Media