Dusi: who will reign?

2015-02-19 00:00

THE 64th edition of the three-day, 120 km Dusi Canoe Marathon from Pieter­maritzburg to Durban gets under way today amid an atmosphere of remembrance, history and excitement.

Legendary South African conservationist and founder of the Dusi Ian ­Player, who died in November last year, will be a major focus. The 1 400 participants, paddling enthusiasts, spectators and sponsors will gather at Natal Canoe Club prior to the start of the race to salute the race’s icon.

The hot and dry conditions that have gripped the province have many expecting an experience much like that which paddlers of the 70s encountered, while the reopening of the old Nqumeni portage route on tomorrow’s second stage will be another “blast from the past”.

Up front, the men’s race promises to be a hard-fought affair as the “Fantastic Four” — Andy Birkett, Sbonelo Khwela, Lance Kime and Thulani Mbanjwa — share the same goal of arriving first in Durban on Saturday.

Kime is the defending K1 champ and hopes his consistency will be enough to see him reign supreme.

Birkett is the odds-on favourite but with just one K1 title and an untimely rib injury still lingering, the top step of the podium is by no means a done deal.

The 2013 fairytale turned into heartbreak and disappointment for Sbonelo Khwela after an agonising swim at Pumphouse Weir, kilometres from the finish, undid his hard work and saw him limp home third.

Khwela secured a maiden Dusi title when he and Birkett clinched the 2014 K2 title, but it’s the singles crown he so desperately craves.

Thulani Mbanjwa is in consistent form and having raced to victory with Martin Dreyer in 2008 to become the first black paddler to win the race, is hungry to put in another strong ­performance.

Adriàn Boros is one of a handful of international paddlers and the young Hungarian is adamant to put in a stronger performance than last year, when he finished 69th with partner Gàbor Màthé.

The women’s race lacks its two main rivals as Robyn Kime continues her international travels and Abby Adie opts for social approach. Her absence from the women’s challenge has opened the door for another multiple Dusi bridesmaid, Laura O’Donoghue.

O’Donoghue returned to competitive racing at the start of the KZN river marathon season and is relishing the shot at adding a Dusi crown to her second places in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

Her strongest challenge is likely to come from Jenna Ward while the ­experienced Hilary Bruss, Peek sisters Jordan and Cana plus 2014 podium ­finisher Tamika Haw will be eyeing a top three finish.

The race will see a new level on the technological front as live timing is ­welcomed to the race, while day-three will be streamed live globally.

Ivan Willmot, better known as ­Yellow Van Man for his iconic yellow 1965 Ford Transit, is set to serve as a volunteer for the 50th year, while Nigel Briggs seeks to become the seventh paddler to surpass 40 Dusi finishes.

The race’s charity batch, renamed the Dr Ian Player Memorial Charity Batch, has set a new record of R381 712 being raised, the funds distributed across the Dusi Valley Paddlers Fund, Magqubu Ntombela Memorial Foundation and Dusi Umgeni Conservation Trust (DUCT).

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