By Gameplan Media
Johannesburg – The country’s best doubles canoeing crews, including the country’s two reigning marathon world champions, will converge on the Vaal River this weekend for the CMH East Rand Vaal River Canoe Marathon that will also decide the 2013 South African K2 River Marathon Championships on Sat.urday 2 and Sunday 3 November.
Triple Dusi winner and recently crowned U23 Flatwater Marathon World Champ Andy Birkett and his partner, 2013 Dusi darling Sbonelo Zondi, are one of a handful of combos likely to battle it out for this weekend’s title, as they start their 2014 Dusi marathon campaign in earnest.
“I haven’t spoken about our goals much with Andy (Birkett) but I’d be very happy with a top three,” said a conservative Zondi beforehand who has impressed both the local and international paddling fraternity since his ‘big time’ arrival performance in the uMngeni River valley in February this year.
Having spent some time out the boat during their recent off-season though, the KwaZulu-Natal pair of Zondi and Birkett are expected to have to dig deep if they are to hold off the charge off fellow ‘Kingdom of the Zulu’ ace and 2013 Flatwater Marathon World Champ Hank McGregor and his likely Dusi partner, fellow international surfski ace Jasper Mocké of the Western Cape.
The recent confirmation of McGregor and Mocké’s Dusi alliance has had the entire paddling fraternity abuzz with speculation about the potential of this new crew of surfski stalwarts.
This weekend’s Vaal will be a combination-testing first hit out and many will have a curious eye on the surfski duet’s opening performance.
Another new pairing seeking a solid result at the national showdown are Cape Town’s Ivan Kruger and KZN-Midlands’ Cam Schoeman.
Schoeman, a former K2 Flatwater Marathon World Champ, and Kruger, who claimed a memorable bottom step of the podium finish in the Berg River Canoe Marathon earlier this year, are tipped to be strong podium contenders for this weekend’s clash.
The fourth pairing of this weekend’s title challenging quartet are Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon silver medalists Len Jenkins of Durban and Port Elizabeth’s Greg Louw, who will be hoping their recently formed partnership will go one better than their positive first outing a month ago.
On the ladies front London Olympic Games bronze medalist Bridgitte Hartley will team up with one of the country’s long standing female elite river stars Hilary Bruss (neé Pitchford) in a formidable title challenging combinations.
They will, however, have to fend off strong challenges from regular top performer Abby Adie and Gauteng-based Donna Tutton as well as the flying KZN South Coast under 23 duo of Jenna Ward and Kerry Segal.
Stage one of the Vaal River Canoe Marathon, the 2013 SA K2 River Marathon Championships, takes place on Saturday 2 November and starts at 08h30 below the Vaal Dam wall and finishes at Bernie’s Farm 34km downstream. Sunday 3 November’s 36km second stage starts at 08h00 at Barrage and finishes at Smilin’ Thru.