One of the annual canoeing highlights gets underway on Friday as the 36th edition of the Fish River Canoe Marathon takes centre stage with paddlers from all over the country converging on the small Karoo town of Cradock for the two day, 82km race.
The 2017 edition of the race will have some added spice as it also doubles as the South African K2 River Marathon Championships. This increased incentive will guarantee exciting racing at the sharp end of the field.
When discussing potential winners it seems that people won’t look further than defending K2 champions Euro Steel’s Andy Birkett and hometown hero, Merrell/Knysna Racing’s, Greg Louw. The pair snuck to victory in 2015 over the Euro Steel duo of Hank McGregor and Jasper Mocké and should be out-and-out favourites for the title this time around.
McGregor, who won his tenth world marathon title last month, will be taking on the challenge with good friend and business partner Lee Furby. The pair are the current South African doubles surfski champions having won the Gara Dolphin Coast Challenge in August and are enjoying the idea of racing Fish together.
The interesting fight at this year’s race is going to be for the rest of the spots in the top five. There are a number of combinations that will be eying a spot on the podium but they will need to beware of a handful of outside pairs.
There is a distinct international flavour at this year’s Fish River Canoe Marathon with a number of paddlers from overseas teaming up with local paddlers hoping to push for a spot on the podium at this year’s showdown.
Of the international paddlers Hungarian ace Adrian Boros is the headline act. The 2017 world marathon championship bronze medallist will team up with Murray Starr for the event and the pair are widely fancied for a podium finish.
Three-time Breede Canoe Marathon winner Stuart Maclaren will join forces with French marathon and sprint star Cryille Carre while 2015 Fish bronze medallist Siseko Ntondini has joined forces with Spanish marathon powerhouse Kiko Vega.
There will also be a strong South African contingent as always with the likes of Alan and Andrew Houston, Kenny Rice and Tom Lovemore, Mark Keeling and Nick Notten as well as juniors Stewart Little and Alex Masina and Hamish Mackenzie and David Evans fighting it out for the Under 18 crown and pushing for a top ten finish overall.
The ladies race looks to be far less clear-cut than the men’s race with the women’s batch featuring a group of K2 combinations vying for the top spot.
The South African/Czech Republic combination of Euro Steel’s Jenna Ward and Anna Kožíšková will go into the contest with a relative lack of training time together.
Kožíšková, the defending K2 champion, and Ward, who is a renowned marathon paddler, could form a formidable combination at this year’s event and will be a combination that will be eyeing the winners spoils.
2015 silver medallist at the Fish was Euro Steel’s Bridgitte Hartley. The former Olympic bronze medallist is teaming up with Kristina Bedec from Serbia. The pair have been working hard together in the past few weeks and will provide a stern test for the other title hopefuls over the two days of racing.
2016 Marathon world championships K2 silver medallist Kyeta Purchase will join up with good friend and Euro Steel teammate Kerry Segal for the outing while Nikki Russell will team up with young world championship K1 bronze medallist Christie Mackenzie for the race starting on Friday.
One of the set K2 pairings, a pair that represented South Africa at the recent marathon world championships, is that of Caitlin Mackenzie and Amy Peckett. The Under 18 combination will prove tough to beat when it comes to the overall junior girls crown.
The 2017 Fish river Canoe Marathon will for the first time incorporate a Paddling Herd as part of The Cows, the charity fundraising foundation that raises money for the CHOC Childhood Cancer Foundation. There are at least 22 people signed up to race this year’s race for The Cows and they have currently raised over R70 000.
Of this money raised The Cows will distribute it to their main benefactor CHOC as well as to the Cradock Cancer Care Centre.
The first stage of the 2017 Fish River Canoe Marathon takes paddlers 45,8km from Grassridge Dam to Knutsford on Friday morning.