Ominous signs from World Champs stars ahead of Hansa Fish

Another strong performance from Team South Africa at the recent Canoe Marathon World Championships gives an indication of which of the nation’s paddlers are in the best form heading into the 2018 Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon from 5-6 October.

2018 was a watershed year at the global marathon showpiece with now 11-time world champion Hank McGregor retiring from the men’s K1 race, leaving the door open for his Euro Steel team mates Andy Birkett and Jasper Mocké to lay claim to the coveted title.

It was Birkett who impressed as he powered his way to his first ever senior K1 gold medal ahead of Hungarian Adrián Boros in second and Mocké in third.

Birkett’s impressive form in his K1 might just push him into the favourite’s position for this year’s Hansa Fish with McGregor lacking a bit of race practice in his K1, despite him and Birkett storming to the K2 gold at Marathon Worlds.

The trio of McGregor, Birkett and Mocké have all entered this year’s race for the SA K1 title at the Fish, however interestingly enough 2016’s third place finisher and two-time defending K2 winner Greg Louw has opted out of the K1 contest.

The contest for the men’s title may well come down to an end-sprint between McGregor and Birkett, very much like it did in 2016 when McGregor just managed to get himself ahead and stay there to win the race by 21 seconds.

From an international perspective this year will see the return of Spanish marathon racer Kiko Vega. Vega took part in the Fish in 2016 where he finished the race in 15th overall and will be hoping that his third visit to Cradock can yield a better result.

From a senior ladies perspective, with the absence of Abby Solms, Jenna Ward must go into the showdown as the favourite following her impressive showing at the World Championships.

Euro Steel’s Ward, in her first senior women’s world championships, paddled with determination to finish the K1 race in seventh place overall.

Ward’s nearest rival and 2016’s runner up is her Euro Steel team mate Bridgitte Hartley. Hartley didn’t quite have the World Championships that she was hoping for and finished the race in twelfth place but she will be a contender following the vast improvement in her river skills.

The next generation of paddlers that will be out to impress in the ladies race will be the under 23 duo of Christie Mackenzie and Sabina Lawrie. Both have completed three Hansa Fish’s and will be hoping to upset the older, more fancied pair.

Mackenzie, who finished ninth in the U23 women’s race in Portugal last week, has proved that she is a river racing star after claiming two consecutive silver medals at the FNB Dusi. She finished second in a K1 in 2017 and then followed that up with a silver in a K2 this year.

Lawrie, who came ninth in the U23 women’s race over one minute 20 seconds ahead of Mackenzie, is more at home in a surfski but will still be one to watch in Cradock this year.

An entry from Louis Hattingh and Hamish Lovemore might get the ears pricking up from an Under 23’s perspective.

Both have competed for the country at World Championships this year, Hattingh in the marathon showpiece, and Lovemore in the sprint world champs last month.

A paddler that will also feature in the Under 23 showdown is Stewart Little. Little’s river skills are impressive and he too will be a force to watch, having enjoyed run of recent wins in the KZN regional races.

From a juniors perspective Maritzburg College’s David Evans and Hamish Mackenzie will be the two paddlers to watch. Both have come off some good form and a bronze K2 medal at the World Championships so they could easily be fighting it out for the Under 18 K1 prize.

In the junior girls race Caitlin Mackenzie and Amy Peckett equipped themselves well at the marathon world champs and will be the two favourites to win the Under 18 girls title in Cradock this year.

Mackenzie finished just outside the medals in fourth and Peckett in 19th in Portugal last weekend but the river is a different beast and could even out the contest over the two days of racing.

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