Birkett gives McGregor a run for his money to claim a sensational maiden Drak title

2014-01-20 00:00

ANDY Birkett snatched a sensational maiden title at the N3TC Drakensberg Challenge Canoe Marathon yesterday, exploiting a mistake by triple champ Hank McGregor in the closing stages of the race, while Abby Adie capped a heady weekend on which she got engaged by winning a fourth women’s title.

Racing on a low uMzimkulu River, Birkett (EuroSteel) and McGregor (Kayak Centre/Team Jeep) started the 23 km final stage from Callaway Bridge to Hopewell Farm side by side, with McGregor having the psychological advantage of winning the first stage.

The pair challenged each other through the final stage, but they were still locked together as they entered the Lower Gorge, just 20 minutes from the finish.

McGregor raced to the bottom of Mkhulu Rapid where he got stuck on some rocks, while Birkett took another line that he had researched and managed to get a 50-metre lead on McGregor.

“For the next two kilometres I looked back over my shoulder at every corner and every rapid to see if Hank [McGregor] was chasing me.

“Only when I realised that he had given up the chase did I start thinking about the fact that I might win the title,” said Birkett.

“I am really stoked with the win because it helps me prove to myself that my paddling is improving, and that I can mix it up with Hank McGregor and the flatwater marathon paddlers,” added Birkett, who last year won the U23 World Marathon Championships title in Copenhagen.

Birkett, who has made Underberg a base for his Dusi training campaign with his partner Sbonelo Zondi, was frustrated that the race did not start at the traditional first stage start at Castleburn bridge, a decision taken by the organisers due to the unusually low river conditions.

“It was a daunting task starting the final stage alongside Hank McGregor, and so it should be. He is South Africa’s top canoeist and I think he will be forever, based on what he has achieved,” he said.

Defending champion Grant van der Walt (Varsity College/Team Jeep) grabbed the last spot on the podium from K1 Dusi champ and top U23 Lance Kime, with Len Jenkins holding off the gutsy visiting Australian Josh Kippen for the fifth place.

Damon Stamp was in a class of his own as he romped to a comfortable win in the junior boys’ ranks.

The women’s title fell for a fourth time to Abby Adie (Best 4 Healthcare/Kayak Centre), who got engaged on the weekend to her boyfriend Kyle Solms. However, her romantic milestone didn’t afford her any leeway from team-mate Robyn Kime, who closed down more than half of Adie’s overnight lead on the final stage.



1. Andy Birkett 2:53:45

2. Hank McGregor 2:54:39

3. Grant van der Walt 2:57:09

4. Lance Kime (U23) 2:57:11

5. Len Jenkins Jnr 3:00:30


1. Abby Adie 3:15:18

2. Robyn Kime 3:18:20

3. Michelle Burn 3:24:29

4. Alex Adie 3:27:40

5. Jenna Ward (U23) 3:28:07

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