Stott surge sets up thriller

2011-02-19 00:00

A TITANIC, final day will decide this year’s Unlimited Dusi Canoe Marathon winner, after Ant Stott and Andrew Birkett were virtually neck and neck at the end of yesterday’s second day at Inanda Dam.

Stott recovered from a “helpless” swim at Ntombi Rapids, where he fell two minutes behind the inexhaustible Birkett, but the marathon paddling maestro reeled Birkett in on the final daunting dash down the dam.

Michael Mbanjwa found his mojo — and his legs — as he powered past Eric Zondi to grab third place some eight minutes behind the leaders on a river that was a real test for those who don’t enjoy paddling too much.

Zondi settled for fourth, and was in awe of Mbanjwa’s transformation.

“I couldn’t believe it, because he had said his legs were flat, and then suddenly he was so strong. Wow!”

The women’s race was uneventful by contrast, as Robyn Kime put a vice-like grip on the lead. “I had a great day, just no mistakes or issues. I really enjoyed the river today, and hopefully I can do the same on the final day.”

Her only rival, Abby Adie, had a tougher day, ending more than 17 minutes in arrears after a couple of “swims” of her own.

“I am just going to try and enjoy the final day, because Robyn is so far ahead,” Adie conceded.

There will be no such let-up in the men’s tussle, however.

“When I took a swim, I really thought I would have to battle for second place,” Stott admitted.

“But I am very happy to have been able to reel Andy in, because two minutes is a massive gap to make up,” he added.

Birkett, still nerveless and buoyant after another measured performance, was in awe of his rival’s tenacity.

“I thought it was incredible for him to come back from that big a gap, but that just shows you how strong he is on the water,” the 20-year old stated.

“I almost took a swim at Ntombi myself, and then again at Hippo, but I managed to hold it together and then tried to pull away,” he explained.

Once Stott had caught up to him, though, the pair were inseparable as they went to the finish as one.

“Ant tried to test me a little bit when he caught me, to see if I had anything left in the tank,” Birkett revealed, “ but I knew that I couldn’t let him get away.”

That he didn’t, and Stott now anticipates an almighty scrap all the way to Blue Lagoon.

“It’s almost impossible to shake Andy off when he is on your wave, so Burma Road will be really crucial in the outcome,” said Stott.

Birkett, still feeling fresh and fearless, said he would be doing his darndest to land the title.

“It’s very tight, and I guess Burma Road will be key. If I can stay with him until then, maybe I can try to get a lead during the run over.”

It’s just that tight, and the potential for a photo-finish along the Lagoon still exists. Stott’s experience and peerless paddling saw him do the improbable yesterday, and he will be hoping for more of the same this morning.

For Birkett, the boundless energy of youth — and an unflinching will to win — may well be the ingredients that cook up one of the most thrilling debut wins ever.

 

OVERALL TIMES AND POSITIONS

Men: 1.Ant Stott 5:42.32, 2.Andrew Birkett (U21) 5:42.33, 3.Michael Mbanjwa 5:50.29, 4.Eric Zondi 5:55.39, 5.Lance Kime (U21) 5:55.54, 6.Hank McGregor 5:59.11, 7.Len Jenkins 6:08.37, 8.Piers Cruickshanks 6:08.38, 9.Mark Mulder 6:15.40, 10.Shaun Griffin 6:15.41

Women: 1.Robyn Kime (U21) 6:42.03, 2.Abby Adie 6:59.31, 3.Hilary Pitchford 7:17.13, 4.Alex Adie 7:27.00, 5.Donna Winter 7:33.37, 6.Bianca Haw (U16) 7:52.57, 7.Tamika Haw (U21) 7:52.57, 8.Brittany Petersen (U18) 8:00.32, 9.Nicola Irvine 8:10.29, 10.Mandy Rawlins 8:11.11

Junior boys: 1.Murray Haw 6:30.20, 2.Gavin Stuter 6:33.33

Junior girls: 1.Bianca Haw (U16) 7.52.57, 2.Brittany Petersen 8:00.32

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