Dusi warmth delights Russians

2012-02-18 00:00

A RUSSIAN family visiting KwaZulu-Natal for The Unlimited Dusi canoe marathon have had their preconceptions about South Africa turned inside out and upside down.

Among the spectators lining the banks of the Msunduzi River yesterday were Alexander and Maria Popov, who said that family and friends back home had warned them about how dangerous South Africa was and questioned why they wanted to travel here to support their student son Mikel, who had heard about the race from a friend at Moscow University.

“They first questioned our son, asking him why he was participating in the event. They said there are murders, muggings and violent crime on a daily basis here. They were worried that we would become a statistic,” said Alexander Popov, who works for steel company Norsk Nickel.

“Travelling through the valley has opened our eyes to the true story. Children who do not know us stand on the side of the road waving at us; locals giving us an escort to our view point on horseback and not expecting payment … just a thank-you. South Africa is blessed,” he said.

The Popovs said they would be back next year.

As was the case on Thursday, there was huge support for Valley heroes Thulani Mbanjwa and Sibonelo Zondi. The duo, who started the day in second place, held it until just before Marianney-Foley bridge where their canoe tipped.

“Even though they are losing time they are still our heroes. The race is not over, they can still do it,” said octagenarian Makhosi Cele.

Another veteran spectator, Avril Abrahams (82), said she remembered the days when there were just 100 paddlers in the race.

Over 1 800 paddlers are participating in this year’s Dusi.

“You used to be able to stand on the bridge of Witness Weir and spend 10 minutes watching the paddlers go through. Now it’s an all day affair. This race has really put Pietermaritzburg on the map.”

Abrahams said the race had been a family affair over generations. Her late husband was a veteran of 12 races, her son has done five and her grandson two.

In the men’s race, defending champions Andy Birkett and Jason Graham tightened their grip on the lead and are now firm favourites to be crowned K2 champions ahead of Hank McGregor and Len Jenkins in Durban today.

The defending champions in the women’s section, Robyn Kime and Abbey Ulansky, also look set to retain their title and will start today’s final leg with a 16,5-minute lead over second-placed Abby and Alex Adie.

• jonathan.faurie@witness.co.za

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