Team fun take gold

2012-02-20 00:00

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They turned in a superlative performance of running and paddling on the 36 km final stage from Inanda Dam to Blue Lagoon in Durban to win the hotly contested race, ahead of Hank McGregor and Len Jenkins and Thulani Mbanjwa and Sbonelo Zondi.

After a meticulously constructed preparation campaign and a flawless three days of racing by the pair affectionately known as “Team Fun”, Birkett and Graham extended their overnight four-minute lead to a final margin of victory of nine minutes, giving Birkett his third Dusi title in a row.

They celebrated their win in trademark fashion by standing up in their kayak as they crossed the line and diving into the waters of Blue Lagoon.

The pair clinically mastered the full Mgeni River, taking some brave lines down dangerous rapids such as Tops Needle, before a Herculean run over the notorious Burma Road portage put the result beyond question.

Birkett said: “Jason has shown such incredible commitment the whole way through training and especially over the past three days and I cannot thank him enough for everything he has put in to getting us to where we are today.

“We are thrilled with the win and to have shared it with [Jason] has been so awesome.”

Having tried to convince his younger partner to opt for a younger talent after their 2010 victory, Graham was flattered that Birkett insisted he wanted to paddle with “gramps” again.

“I like to think it was a mature decision by Andy, but I said to him shortly after the finish that this is now most definitely the last time,”said Graham.

Despite giving it their all, McGregor and Jenkins simply had no answer to the leaders’ relentless onslaught and instead had to turn their attention on maintaining their second place as Mbanjwa and Zondi launched a remarkable charge through the middle section of the final day.

Jenkins said: “I thought we had a really good Burma portage. We managed to run almost the entire way to the top, but by the time we got to the bottom I could not believe it when I turned around and saw Bungee [Mbanjwa] and Sbonelo right there.”

A special effort on the final day may not have been enough to put Mbanjwa and Zondi back in the hunt for the title, but their closing stage performance will leave a far sweeter taste in their mouths after a frustrating first two days.

Mbanjwa said: “It has been a really disappointing Dusi this year for us.

“We had really hoped to do a lot better so it was unfortunate we had so many issues on the first two days, but we had a great day today and we are really happy with how we finished.”

Having combined for the first time in last year’s Non-Stop Dusi, the Mbanjwa-Zondi pairing is still relatively new to the paddling world, but all the signs indicate a promising future for the duo.

In the women’s race Robyn Kime and Abbey Ulansky smashed the overall race record to go with their new stage records on each of the two preceding days as they cruised to the second victory in a row, with Alex and Abbey Adie having to settle for second ahead of the experienced Debbie Germiquet and Carmen Blakeney.

Kime said: “It’s been a great three days for us and it’s really great to have won.

“It’s been such a privilege to have paddled with Abbey again.

“She knows the river so well and I have learnt a lot from her tactics, especially with her having been mentored by Graeme Pope-Ellis.”

Murray Haw and James Speed once again put in a remarkable performance on the final day as they moved up a further place to finish 11th overall and deservedly claim the U18 boys’ title ahead of schoolmates Donavan Wewege and Murray Starr.

In the junior girls section Bianca Haw and Jordan Peek led from start to finish and finished fourth in the women’s race as well.

Full Dusi results on pages 20 and 21

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