Birkett finds an extra gear

2011-02-18 00:00

ON an opening day full of drama and more than the odd tumble at the Unlimited Dusi Canoe Marathon, Andrew Birkett found an extra gear to chisel out a handy 45-second lead on defending champion Ant Stott after the first stage.

Still just 20, Birkett showed that he has built on last year’s success in the doubles with Jason Graham, as he pulled away from Stott late in the piece, reaching Dusi Bridge with his customary grin.

“It was a great first day, and I just have to try and go as hard as I can (today) to build a lead on Ant,” Birkett reflected.

Even in the heat of battle, the spirit of the Dusi was still evident between the leading duo, as the experienced Stott helped the youngster when Birkett’s rudder was bent just past Witness Weir.

“Ant hit it down for me, and then I told my seconds to meet me ahead with another one,” Birkett explained.

The women’s race saw a tussle between youngsters Robyn Kime and Abby Adie, with Kime having an eventful start.

She took a dip at Ernie Pearce Weir, losing significant time against Adie.

“I guess it’s the curse of the ladies’ champion,” she later laughed, referring to absent Dusi queen Abbey Miedema’s own tumbles in the past.

She recovered remarkably well, though, and had caught Adie by the Sewerage Farm portage.

“I had a nice take-out, but Abby got caught behind some of the men,” she offered.

Having escaped her early challenges and built up a lead of over seven minutes, Kime said she was keen to avoid any more mistakes.

The early exchanges in the men’s race were also not short of drama, as Hank McGregor hit Ernie Pearce Weir in front only to find himself shooting it backwards after contact with the boat of Len Jenkins.

That saw Mcgregor slip back to sixth, with a furiously paddling Jenkins holding his lead to the first portage.

But, unsurprisingly, the pace took its toll on Jenkins — who had been an unlikely starter after a recent virus — and he finished the day well back in the field.

The powerful Michael Mbanjwa, expected to dominate on day one, was distinctly off-colour.

His legendary running skills deserted him and he ended the day fourth, just behind an excellent showing from young Eric Zondi of the Change A Life programme, headed by Dusi legend Martin Dreyer.

“My legs were just so tight ,” ‘Banji’ later lamented. “Maybe it’s from not racing enough, but I wasn’t myself today. I tried to take it easy on the river, thinking I was going to make it up during the portage. But Andrew ran very well, I was very surprised at that actually,” the 2008 winner admitted.

Stott, who is expected to come into his own during today’s more technical second stage, also had his scrapes.

“I was running at Palm Tree over a bridge, and a plank just collapsed under me. At one stage it was a case of me down, and the boat over there somewhere. So I had to gather myself, and I am actually surprised at how well today went. That was definitely my best first day of the Dusi ever,” Stott said.

While Mbanjwa was surprised by Birkett’s running prowess, Stott was taken aback by the youngster’s strength on the water.

“I was quite surprised at Andy’s paddling, and it will be very, very difficult to close that gap,” he admitted.

“But there is a lot left in the tank, and I will do all I can out there,” he stated.

And what of the man whom they are all now chasing?

“It’s still a very open race, and one mistake can cost you on the river,” Birkett warned.

But that’s not to say his youthful exuberance has diminished.

“I am going to try and put the hammer down on day two,” he declared.

“There will be no holding back!”

DAY ONE RESULTS:

Men

1.Andrew Birkett (U21) 2:43.56

2.Ant Stott 2:44.42

3.Sibonelo Zondi 2:47.03

4.Michael Mbanjwa 2:47.37

5.Lance Kime (U21) 2:51.43

Women

1.Robyn Kime 3:16.38

2.Abby Adie 3:24.06

3.Hilary Pitchford 3:35.22

4.Alex Adie 3:39.19

5.Donna Winter 3:46.47

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