Andy Birkett to face Dusi alone

2014-12-05 00:00

THE canoeing season is in full swing and the country’s top paddlers have been hard at work preparing for a number of races while the Dusi Canoe Marathon looms large.

Reigning Dusi K2 (doubles canoe) champ Andy Birkett will face the ­famous race alone in his K1 (single) canoe in February and goes head to head with the man he won the race with this year, Sbonelo Khwela.

Speaking to The Witness yesterday, the former Maritzburg College pupil said he had gone into the ­season fairly relaxed and started off racing in the Ozzie Gladwin Canoe Marathon in November.

Despite “not doing too much training”, Birkett went on to beat his good friend Khwela to claim his first Ozzie Gladwin title. He put the win down to the last of stretch of the race after playing catch-up on the portage.

“It came down to the end sprint on the water when I was able to pull away from Sbonelo,” Birkett said.

Their battle has become a bit of folklore between the two. Khwela is renowned as one of the best portage runners in the country, while Birkett’s speed on the water is close to ­unmatched. Considering that fact, Birkett has been training slightly differently to prepare for the rigours of the Dusi portages.

“To be honest, I have been trying to train hard but I have battled a little bit changing my focus from marathons,” he said.

To prepare for the gruelling portages, Birkett has been trail running in Cascades to rack up some miles on his legs. “It’s something I have always done for Dusi, otherwise I don’t really run too much the rest of the year.”

Birkett has started his training at a gentle pace to avoid injury and ­slowly condition his body for the ­canoe marathon. Taking on the 2015 edition alone means a lot of solitary training in contrast to training alongside Khwela for their K2 paddle in the 2014 edition.

While Birkett is hard at working on his running, he knows that Khwela is putting in the yards paddling to ­nullify each other’s strengths. They will battle it out this weekend at the 50 Miler Canoe Marathon and ­Birkett believes every race is an ­opportunity to gain momentum.

“Winning will obviously be a ­confidence booster, but I am not ­putting too much pressure on ­myself,” the reigning champ said.

Following those races, Birkett will also compete in the upcoming Drak Challenge that is strictly paddling, before heading to Johannesburg for the Eurosteel Rumble in January.

“That race is like a mock Dusi, there is a lot of portage, so that will be the real test before the actual race.”

Around three years ago, Birkett ­only competed once a year in the Dusi but has since added marathon racing to his competition menu.

Birkett has won three Dusi K2 titles and only has one K1 title to his name.

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