‘Fantastic Four’ in 50 Miler

2014-12-06 00:00

A TALENTED men’s and women’s field is set to take on this weekend’s Lettie Paddle 50 Miler Canoe Marathon. ­Paddlers look to use the opportunity to get some time on the Msunduzi and Mngeni Rivers ahead of the 2015 Dusi Canoe Marathon.

All of next year’s K1 “Fantastic Four” title hopefuls — Andy Birkett, Sbonelo Khwela, Lance Kime and Thulani Mbanjwa — will be at the start, while men’s defending champ Hank ­McGregor threw the cat among the pigeons when he added his name to the entry list.

Khwela, Birkett and Mbanjwa have all seen action in the KZN pre-Dusi marathon season already, but this weekend’s 50 Miler sees the full quartet in the same field for the first time this season after Kime recently returned from Stellenbosch University.

With Khwela, Birkett and Mbanjwa having won the Umpetha Challenge, Ozzie Gladwin Canoe Marathon and Alan Gardiner Memorial Race from Ibis Point to Dip Tank respectively, Kime will be eager to get his name on the pre-Dusi season’s winners’ list.

The pre-Dusi favourites were expected to be in a league of their own but McGregor’s entry has added an interesting twist to the contest.

Soweto Canoeing and Recreation Club’s (SCARC) Loveday Zondi and Thando Ngamlana, Stellenbosch University’s Andrew Houston, Owen Gandar and Murray Haw as well as ever-present KZN locals Shaun Griffin and Carl Folscher all have their sights set on a strong performance to aid in the Dusi front row seeding.

While the 50 Miler may be more paddling specific than the Dusi, Martin Dreyer’s Change a Life Academy’s Zonele Nzuza, Kwanda Mhlope, Banesti Nkhoesa, Mhlonishwa Hlongwane, Mmeli Cele, Mthobisi Cele, Nkosi Cele and Lucas Mthalane will enjoy a strong presence in the weekend’s top 20.

The women’s race is equally competitive and set to be the most closely contested in the 50 Miler’s recent history.

With five-time Dusi winner Robyn Kime out of the picture due to international explorations, Abby Adie is widely regarded as the early pre-race favourite to clinch the women’s 2015 Dusi crown.

The Ozzie Gladwin, however, proved that even Adie can have a tough day on the river and this weekend’s 50 Miler provides the rest of the elite women’s field with an opportunity to show their metal.

Last year’s Berg winner and 2014 ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships U23 women’s bronze medallist Jenna Ward, 2014 Dusi third place finishers Bianca and Tamika Haw, and Adie’s Marathon World Champs K2 partner Laura O’Donoghue will all hope to put in a confidence-boosting effort.

While five-time Marathon World champ McGregor does battle at the front of the men’s race, his wife Pippa is set to continue her passage into the sport when she and Debbie Germiquet take on the assignment in a K2.

Danica Bartho is another set to take to the water as the event carries added incentive for her. She founded the Lettie Paddle foundation in 2013 in honour of Nikki “Lettie” Haynes’s brave fight against cancer.

In an effort to assist in Bartho’s ­cancer fund and awareness raising ­campaign, organisers of the 50 Miler, Umzimyathi Canoe Club, awarded Bartho naming rights to this year’s race.

All funds raised from the race’s successful charity batch bidders are for the Lettie Paddle programme.

Without much rain this summer and low levels recorded by most KZN dams, the race has altered its route to capitalize on the full Henley Dam water release granted by Umgeni Water.

Today’s opening stage sees paddlers head from Mission Bridge to Marianni Foley Causeway before continuing ­tomorrow, making their way to the headwaters of Inanda Dam.

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