Full river welcomes top field for 62nd Dusi Marathon | SASCOC - SASCOC

Full river welcomes top field for 62nd Dusi Marathon

The 62nd edition of The Unlimited Dusi canoe marathon got under way in Pietermaritzburg on Thursday morning with the best weather and water levels for decades, and both the men’s and women’s races loaded with the best river marathoners in the country.

Steady rains in the province throughout the summer has left all the dams on the route spilling, and for the first time in decades the natural outflows from Albert Falls, Nagle and Inanda dam will guarantee full rivers for the three-day race to Blue Lagoon in Durban.

Andy Birkett stands poised to become the first paddler after the iconic Graeme Pope-Ellis in the seventies to win four back-to-back titles, should he successfully defend his crown this weekend.

The 23-year-old Team Best 4 Kayak Centre star has taken a low key build-up to the race, cherry-picking the best of his training regime from the past three years, and comes into the race relaxed and confident.

He will need all of that to get the better of a classy men’s field that includes four former world champions, and every winner of the race since Martin Dreyer’s retirement.ÔÇ¿ÔÇ¿Hank McGregor, 2005 and 2006 winner, has been in rampant form this summer, and dominated many of the Pre-Dusi races. He has lofty plans for the year, including winning the first ever Surfski world championship title mid-year in Portugal.

Similarly Len Jenkins, who dismantled most of the race records en route to victory in 2001, has been hard to beat in major races, winning the national crown at the Hansa Fish in October, and shading most of the Dusi contenders in The Unlimited Ozzie Gladwin several weeks later.

Now backed by Team Shackleton Jenkins likes to dominate racing, and once he gets to the front, he is often unstoppable.

Thulani Mbanjwa won the race with Martin Dreyer, but for his years of dominating the race, especially on the portages where he is feared as the fastest runner with a boat on his shoulders, he has never won a K1 title, a fact that doesn’t sit comfortably for the product of the Valley of a Thousand Hills.

Ant Stott brings vast experience to the race and knows how to win this race. Now a full time entrepreneur Stott openly admits that he doesn’t have the time to train to the level he believes is needed to be competitive, particularly in an era when Birkett has forced aspirant paddlers to raise their performances.

Stott, with Team Matelec, is tipping a dark horse in this tightly congested race for the podium in the form of Capetonian Shaun Rubenstein. His paddling prowess is highly respected, having taken him to the Olympic Games as a sprinter and a world marathon championships title.

He won emphatically as a junior, thanks to being under the wing of Dusi King Graeme Pope-Ellis, and has a great tactically knowledge of the rivers, and how to adjust to differing water levels.

His build-up has been focused on training for the Absa Cape Epic MTB race, which together with his ail running, could make him very competitive on the tough portages.

Add to this mix the class of Shongweni based star Sbonelo Zondi, a winner of The Unlimited Non-Stop Dusi and the Pre-Dusi race at Albert Falls dam. The Team Kayak Racing is well poised to grab a major individual result, after tucking in behind Mbanjwa for the early part of his career.

Lending an international flavour to the title race this year are the established world marathon championship medallists from the Czech Republic Michael Odvarko and Jakub Adam. The pair has been training in KwaZulu-Natal for four months, supported by the race sponsors The Unlimited, and have adjusted to the quantum leap from their stock trade of flatwater marathoning to the unique challenges of this race. Adam’s sister Anna Adamova will race in the mixed doubles category.

The new kid on the block amongst the contenders is Team Best 4 Kayak Centres Lance Kime, who has emerged as a serious challenger to the established stars in the past six months.

The women’s race sports a shorter list of contenders, but should be just as fiercely contested. Robyn Kime comes into the race seeking her fourth title in succession. The Maties based star won a silver medal at the world marathon champs in Rome last year, and is now a seasoned Dusi tactician, having won two titles with another wise Dusi owl Abbey Ulansky.

Kime has spent less time tripping the rivers than she has in the past. In sharp contrast, her Team Best 4 Kayak Centre team mate Abby Adie is in the form of her life, and is oozing confidence after a near flawless build-up to the race.

Both are good runners, and skilled river paddlers. Kime managed to shake off a resilient Adie in the recent best 4 Healthcare 50 Miler, but her narrow margin of victory only serves to underscore how close this race will be.

Add to that the tenacious Gauteng-based Jen Theron, whose set or river skills a heart that contrasts her slight frame, will make her a serious podium candidate.

Similarly Hilary Pitchford, now engaged to former Dusi winner Deon Bruss, is itching to get onto the water. She missed last year’s race due to a broken arm suffered just weeks before the start, and with full rivers predicted, her advantage will be in the big rapids, where she thrives.

Just under 1600 paddlers have entered the race, including five K3s and a big field of largely social K2s.

The Unlimited Charity batch auction raised a staggering R347 120 towards the crèches supported by The Unlimited Child. This charity batch will include a number of popular celebrities taking part in the race.

Popular radio presenter and SA Idol’s judge Unathi Msengana will make her Dusi debut, paddling with seasoned surfski ace Oscar Chalupsky. Alongside her in that batch will be Dusi returnees Liezel van der Westhuisen and 5fm sports guy Sias du Plessis, and a Dusi debut for East Coast Radio presenter Damon Beard.

Popular TV soapie star Paul du Toit will also be on the start line. A seasoned paddler, du Toit stars in the TV series Binnelanders.

Also on the start line will be Dakar star Alfie Cox, paddling his fifth Dusi, teamed up with Owen Hemmingway who will be aiming for his 25th finish. Deaf Olympic swimming star Terence Parkin is also racing, teamed up with the director of the aQuell├® Midmar Mile Wayne Riddin, who is also eyeing his 25th Dusi finish.

Maritzburg’s BMX Ballie Sharlene McGillvray, the world champion in her masters age, sets off on her first Dusi, partnering Shelley Bloy, the daughter of Dusi stalwart Lyall Wheeler.ÔÇ¿ÔÇ¿The Unlimited Dusi ends at Blue Lagoon in Durban on Saturday.

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