Player Cup finds way back to Dusi founder

2014-01-15 00:00

THE Player Cup, awarded to the winner of the Dusi Canoe Marathon between 1953 and 1972, made its way back to the founder and first winner of the race, Dr Ian Player, yesterday.

Player, a world-renowned conservationist and four-time winner of the world’s biggest open water race, was delighted to see the trophy again.

“I’m delighted that you found this,” the legendary Player told Dusi organiser Brett Austen-Smith at his home in Karkloof yesterday.

The story goes thus: the trophy disappeared without a trace in 1972 after it had been awarded to that year’s winner.

“No one knew what happened to it; it just disappeared,” said Austen-Smith.

“We’ve recently refurbished our offices, and the storage was cleaned up. I went in there one day looking for a new trophy to present to the women, when I picked [The Player Cup] and thought it was a nice trophy. It was only when I looked at the names that I realised it was the original winner’s trophy.”

The trophy was originally bought by Player’s family, including his world famous brother Gary.

Austen-Smith said the trophy would be restored and all the winners’ names, including that of 15-time Dusi legend Graeme Pope-Ellis, added.

Following the handing over of the old trophy, Player spoke of how the race had started and how, without the reporting of Derek Kain in The Witness, it would never have happened.

In 1950, Player went on a trip down the river with a canoeist from Switzerland, whose name he could not recall.

“After reading about it in The Witness, Ernie Pearce came up to me and said, ‘Let’s make this a race’ … The Witness put the Dusi on the map,” he said.

Before the Dusi, canoeing was unknown in South Africa, and other races such as the Fish River Canoe Marathon, the Drak Challenge and Ozzie Gladwin Canoe Marathon did not exist.

“Until I was 12, I was good at soccer and wanted to play it professionally. After breaking my leg, I couldn’t do other sports so I decided to start canoeing. I couldn’t play sport, so I started my own,” the 86-year-old said.

For this year’s race, Austen-Smith was planning on having Player paddle in a K3 at Inanda Dam on the second day.

Speaking about this year’s race, Player said, “I’d like to ask the city council to make sure that the river and the streets are clean. We should follow Durban’s example.”

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