With the dust settling on the recent SA K2 Champs at the Breede Marathon, local attention now shifts to the river that runs through Cradock as the Fish River Canoe Marathon on 5 and 6 October will be deciding the SA K1 title for 2018, and the women’s title race looks set to be a highlight of the 2018 spectacle.
Reflecting the healthy state of women’s paddling at the moment, the event will see a stellar gathering of the elite female paddlers on a race that has historically forced some tough tactical decisions on women aspiring to claim the prestigious title.
With its guaranteed water flow, big rapids and weirs and a demanding long first stage, women were able to opt for conservative options and still remain competitive for a place on the podium, but in the past decade more and more women have taken on tough obstacles like Keith’s Flyover Rapid and Cradock Weir and earned crucial leads and decided the top placings.
London Olympic bronze medallist Bridgitte Hartley was one of the first women to enter the Fish, and will be bring the form that earned her a bronze medal in the 1000m K1 at the world sprint champs. She will also be fresh from her challenge at the World Marathon Champs in Portugal.
Hartley is a great example of a strong female paddler who has had to sharpen her river skills to be competitive in major multi-stage river marathons. Now a senior and respected member of the elite women’s contingent, she will be under pressure for a new generation of aspiring women, eager to prove themselves at the Fish.
A first Fish title will be high on the priority list for Hartley going into the Karoo showdown.
The Fish has in the past decade also attracted some of the world best international women to thesee shores, many of whom have helped reshape the way that the women’s race is contested.
Czech wild water stars Michala Mruskova and Katerina Vacikova single handedly made shooting Keiths Flyover a not-negotiable decision for any women’s boat anxious to stay with the front bunch as they became the first of several international women to win the title.
More recently Anna Kožíšková and Krisztina Bedec have graced the race, the former winning a K2 title with Abby Solms in 2015 and repeating that feat in 2017 with Jenna Ward.
Hartley’s Dusi K2 partner Christie Mackenzie is part of the young turks ready to usurp the places on the Fish women’s podium, where she is regularly found snapping at the heels of the senior women stars like Hartley and Jenna Ward at local river and surfski races.
Emerging from the junior ranks are hungry talents like Amy Peckett, Caitlin Mackenzie, Sabin Lawrie and Cara Waud, many with solid experience on the Fish River to count on.
Jordan Peek, who rocketed into the limelight by winning the FNB Dusi K2 title with her younger sister Cana in February, is sure to be another favourite for the Fish podium. It remains to be seen whether her younger sibling Cana, who is enjoying success as a trial runner nowadays, will make the trip to Cradock to compete.
The Western Cape contingent could feature the challenges of Bianca Beavitt and Melanie van Niekerk.
Not to be underestimated are the surfski stars, fronted by the reigning surfski world champion Hayley Nixon, who has transitioned seamlessly into a world class marathon racer and will be looking to prove that fact at the upcoming world marathon champs that precedes the 2018 Fish.
Add to that mix paddlers like Kyeta Purchase and Kerry Segal, Michelle Burn and Nikki Birkett, both of whom are threatening to make serious returns to competitive racing from motherhood, and the Hansa Fish 2018 women’s race may well steal the limelight from the hotshot men vying to be first to the finish at the Cradock sports fields.