The South African Team to the World Marathon Championships in Germany returns to South Africa with 4 of the 6 medals on offer in the Senior Men’s title races, a bronze in the Junior girls and a silver in the Women’s K2.
Durban schoolgirl and Mocke Paddling Team Athlete Kyeta Purchase opened Team South Africa’s medal count with her 3rd place in the Junior Girls race on Friday as she finished 39 seconds behind Hungarians Noémi Pupp (01:34.31) and Viktória Fruzsina Nagy (01:34.51). Purchase headed into the clash aiming to medal – no matter what the colour – and she was happy that she was able to get the job done.
“Last year wasn’t a great World Championships for me so I have been working really hard to improve going into this year and to get a medal means that that hard work has paid off,” said Purchase.
“I messed up on the last portage which cost me a bit of time and I also lacked a bit of pace on the Hungarian girls which was a bit frustrating, but to win a medal is such an incredible feeling and I am really happy!”
Other notable results from the first day of racing saw Jenna Ward and Louis Hattingh put in brave efforts to finish fourth and sixth in the K1 Under-23 Women’s and K1 Under-23 Men’s clashes respectively.
Saturday, out come the Big Guns
Day Two of the competition brought with it wind, rain and mixed results as Jean Van Der Westhuyzen and Mocke Paddling Team Athlete Mark Keeling raced to 5th and 8th consecutively in the Junior Boys event while junior girls crew of Sabrina Lawrie and Christie McKenzie found themselves rubbed off the hot-paced front bunch that was dictated by Hungarian paddlers to finish 7th in the Girls K2 race.
Mocke Paddling Team Athletes, Lizzie Broughton of Great Britain and South Africa’s Nicole Russel, had gutsy races to finish 4th and 10th respectively in the Senior Ladies K1 race which was won by Hungarian Marathon icon Renata Csay over fellow Hungarian and Friday’s Ladies U23 winner Vanda Kiszli.
The start list for the Senior Men’s event featured no less than 3 former champions, including the winner of the last three titles, Mocke Paddling Team Member Hank McGregor. Racing in rainy, windy conditions that left the vast expanse of the Brandenburg an den Havel lake choppy and difficult to manage, McGregor raced a tactically superb race to stay in command of a threatening nine boat front bunch, with Portugal’s Jose Ramalho and Hungary’s Adrian Boros always well positioned.
It was McGregor’s sixth K1 title, defending the K1 crown the Euro Steel athlete won in Gyor last year, to go with the K2 crown that he won with Jasper Mocké in Oklahoma in 2014.
“Racing against some of the best paddlers, if not the best paddlers, and I managed to pull it off when it really counted,” said McGregor. “I thoroughly enjoyed myself. It was a totally different type of racing, with sometimes fifteen guys on the front bunch. But that’s the World Championships, against the best of the best.
“To have my countryman working together with me was great. I am really happy,” he said after the race.
The silver medal is a massive result for Birkett, who won the Under 23 K1 world title in Copenhagen.
“I am super stoked to have been in such a tough race,” he said. “I looked at the bunch around at before the last portage with about seven or eight boats and thought that if I can somehow get a medal I would be so happy, to come second I feel like I have just won the race.”
“After the huge disappointment of last year where things didn’t seem to work out the way I wanted it to, I went back and worked harder and I am super stoked that things went my way today,” said Birkett.
Sunday, Grand Finale
The third and final day was poised to be thriller on all accounts with the Junior Boys, Senior Ladies and Senior Men set to thrash it out in the K2’s. South Africa’s Jean van der Westhuyzen and Mark Keeling claimed a top five finish while their compatriots Zachery Preyser and Ulvard Hart finished in fifteenth place in yet another race won by Hungarians. This time it was Erik Petro and Ádám Varga who won over Great Britain’s Luke Harding and Gregory Magnus in a time of 1:37:18.
The Ladies K2 race saw the young South African pair of Jenna Ward (U23) and Kyeta Purchase (U18) cling to the tail of marathon racing legend Renáta Csay and her Hungarian partner, Alexandra Bara. Having left the rest of the field in their wake, Ward and Purchase went head to head with their more fancied rivals with only an endsprint separating the two crews.
“That was the best race of our lives,” exuded Euro Steel’s Ward. “Racing with Renáta – our role model – was an absolute honour and it was just the most amazing thing we’ve ever done!”
“It was amazing to race against Renáta, she was so strong the whole way and I just kept saying to Jen ‘Come on, let’s hang in there’ and luckily we were able to just keep grinding and made sure the girls behind us weren’t able to catch us!” added Euro Steel/Mocké Paddling’s thrilled Purchase.
The highly anticipated Men’s K2 event got underway with a thrilling start as Hank McGregor and Jasper Mocké charged back to the top of the world by claiming victory, bringing a golden curtain down on the 2016 ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships after three frenetic days of racing. Having won in America in 2014 and having been pipped to the post by Adrián Boros and László Solti last year, McGregor and Mocké showed their class by turning the tides on the Hungarian pair this time around and, in the process, McGregor claimed a remarkable eighth world crown.
“I was only as strong as my partner today, it was a real team effort,” said McGregor. “To win the title is fantastic, to get it back after missing out last year is even better!”
“It’s an awesome feeling to get the title back and having the whole crew here with me makes it so much more meaningful,” added Euro Steel/Mocké Paddling’s Mocké.
The race ebbed and flowed throughout as the dynamics of an unusually large lead group tested all competitors’ tactics and kept everyone on the edge of their seat – none more so than McGregor and Mocké after the latter suffered an illness in the build up to the race.
“Jasper hadn’t been feeling well all week so it was 50/50 as to whether we were even going to race or not,” explained McGregor. “We had a fantastic race though where we managed to conserve as much energy as possible, Jasper was strong when he needed to be and we’re world champions again so we’re really happy!”
“Tactically we raced a good race; there were 8-10 boats on the front bunch at any one time but we never over-extended ourselves as Hank did really well, surfing us from wave to wave and keeping us well positioned throughout,” said Mocké. “I knew I only had one 500m sprint in me and I wanted that to be from the last turn to the finish, which is exactly what happened.”
More Spoils for Team SA
It wasn’t any more straightforward for Hattingh and Birkett as a series of mistakes, including a costly navigational error around a turn buoy midway through the race forced them to work far harder than they would have liked to get back into medal contention.
“We were on the inside coming into buoys at the top turn and with the wind coming from the opposite side, all the water from the other guys’ strokes went straight into my face and half blinded me,” explained Hattingh. “The next thing I saw was that we were heading straight for the buoy, we pegged it and unfortunately bounced the wrong way so we had to back paddle, come back around it and then try catch up.”
“We missed a buoy at the top turn, which is easy to with all the wind and the chop on the water,” added Birkett. “Slowly we caught back over the next two laps though and I’m super stoked with the outcome as I really didn’t think that we were going to get a podium today.”
The success of Team South Africa in Germany this year bodes well for next years event which will take place in Pietermaritzberg in South Africa’s KwaZulu Natal Midlands.