In what were both exciting finishes, Andy Birkett and Bridgitte Hartley bagged their maiden K1 Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon titles, and with it the South African K1 River Marathon Championship crowns, at the Cradock Sports Grounds on Saturday.
Both races were far from sewn up with Hartley going into the second day with a two and a half minute lead while Birkett had to overturn a one second deficit over the 36km that make up the second stage of the Hansa Fish.
Euro Steel’s Birkett and team mate Hank McGregor went toe-to-toe throughout the entire 84km and there was a feeling that the race was going to come down to an end sprint again, like it did two years ago. This time it was Birkett who ended on the right side of the result.
“I am super stoked for sure but it shows that there is very little between myself and Hank,” Birkett said. “He probably came past me three times in the last two kilometres and I did the same. Luckily for me that when I went past him it was closer to the finish line!
“It was awesome racing and I have huge respect for Hank. He is a phenomenal athlete and we have had some great tussles.
“It has been a long season for me but it has been great!”
The two could not be separated throughout the race and Birkett knew that there was a strong possibility that the race would end in a sprint to the line.
“I thought that if neither of us made any mistakes then there would definitely be an end sprint, mainly because there has been nothing between us throughout the race. I knew there would be a lot of pressure coming into Cradock,” he added.
In one of the surprise results of the day, Spanish ace Kiko Vega had a barnstorming paddle on Saturday to finish in third place overall.
Clinton Cook relinquished his third place overall and slipped into fifth while Brandon van der Walt finished in fourth.
Hartley’s first major river triumph has come at the end of a strong season for the three-time Olympian and to have a Fish title to her name is the realisation of a career-long dream
“I can finally tick this off the bucket list!” an elated Hartley said. “I think that I have wanted to win this race ever since I put my foot in a canoe!
“It’s just incredible to be able to come away with a win – especially in a single!”
To have a title as prestigious as a Fish title to her name, Hartley believes that it has been the culmination of a lot of hard work.
“I threw myself into a Dusi after paddling flat-water for years, and that was so challenging.
“The K2 Dusi was also tough but a little bit easier and then slowly but surely I did more and it always seemed that I would end second.
“So to finally take a win feels incredible!”
Seven-time winner of the Hansa Fish Hank McGregor had to settle for second place after an exciting end sprint, however he loved every minute of the tussle.
“It was a fantastic two days of racing and it was a win for both us to be out there fighting it out,” Euro Steel/Fenn Kayaks’ McGregor said.
“I managed to catch Andy slightly unawares after the Cradock Weir but then coming into the finish he got the jump on me and he deserves the win.
“It was a great race and I was honoured to paddle with him.”
Euro Steel’s Jenna Ward made a real fist of the ladies race as she pushed as hard as she could on the second day, however, interestingly, catching Hartley was not her main priority.
“I didn’t really keep up with the splits and didn’t worry too much about Bridgitte, I was worried about the big group of girls behind me!” she said with a smile.
“To have a race where the top five girls all finish within a few minutes of each other is incredible and is great for our sport.
“Luckily for me I was able to hold them off and to get my first second place finish at the Fish makes me happy.”
In the ladies top five Varsity College’s Under 23 star Christie Mackenzie finished in third while Robyn Owen and Nikki Birkett finished fourth and fifth respectively.
Varsity College’s Stewart Little and Christie Mackenzie won the Under 23 men’s and women’s titles while Maritzburg College’s David Evans and Epworth’s Amy Peckett wrapped up the Under 18 boys and girls crowns.
SUMMARY OF RESULTS – 2018 Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon Stage Two (Knutsford – Cradock Sports Grounds)
1.Andy Birkett 2:06:57 5:00:52
2.Hank McGregor 2:06:58 5:00:53
3.Kiko Vega (ESP) 2:07:49 5:07:36
4.Brandon van der Walt 2:08:48 5:08:36
5.Clinton Cook 2:09:57 5:09:04
6.Siseko Ntondini 2:10:44 5:10:33
7.Stewart Little (U23) 2:09:14 5:11:27
8.Alan Houston (U23) 2:09:17 5:11:32
9.Joshua Fenn (U23) 2:11:28 5:13:42
10.Alex Masina (U23) 2:11:01 5:15:58
1.Bridgitte Hartley 2:21:05 5:40:12
2.Jenna Ward 2:20:26 5:42:06
3.Christie Mackenzie (U23) 2:22:27 5:44:58
4.Robyn Owen 2:23:24 5:45:55
5.Nikki Birkett 2:23:27 5:54:57
6.Amy Peckett (U18) 2:28:46 5:58:05
7.Melanie van Niekerk 2:28:06 6:05:53
8.Caitlin Mackenzie (U18) 2:36:10 6:09:19
9.Kim van Gysen 2:35:56 6:14:34
10.Donna Winter 2:37:47 6:16:35
Under 23 Men
1.Stewart Little 2:09:14 5:11:27
2.Alan Houston 2:09:17 5:11:32
3.Joshua Fenn 2:11:28 5:13:42
Under 23 Women
1.Christie Mackenzie 2:22:27 5:44:58
2.Donna Hutton 2:36:08 6:38:43
3.Lindy Odendaal 8:25:36 18:10:07
Under 18 Boys
1.David Evans 2:11:11 5:16:58
2.Hamish Mackenzie 2:12:18 5:20:12
3.Matthew Fenn 2:11:26 5:20:35
Under 18 Girls
1.Amy Peckett (U18) 2:28:46 5:58:05
2.Caitlin Mackenzie (U18) 2:36:10 6:09:19
3.Tracey Oellerman 2:42:12 6:24:26
Under 16 Boys
1.Sam Butcher 2:19:28 5:34:31
Under 16 Girls
1.Shannon Parker-Dennison 2:43:11 6:29:38