Weather has paddlers jittery ahead of Drak

2013-01-19 00:00

UNDERBERG — With a huge field of paddlers converging on the Southern Drakensberg this weekend for the 20th anniversary of the N3TC Drak Challenge Canoe Marathon, the volatile weather and unpredictable Berg storms have left many paddlers holding their collective breath, unable to predict the river conditions for the popular two-day 70 km race.

Few will be holding thumbs as tightly one of the pre-race favourites Grant van der Walt.

The U23 world marathon champion is one of the heavier paddlers in the elite field, and will struggle if the race starts on a low and rocky river, particularly through the steep and technical Valley of a Thousand Rapids that spans the first 10 km of the race.

Van der Walt has produced the standout performance over the longer 38 km second stage in the last two years, and in the absence of defending champion Hank McGregor — away competing in the Perth Doctor surfski race in Australia — many feel this is Van der Walt’s opportunity to step up and claim his first major K1 river marathon title.

He will have to deal with some tough competition if he harbours dreams of stepping into the top spot of the Drak podium, in particular from former winners Len Jenkins and Ant Stott.

The race for the women’s title will focus on Team Best 4 Kayak Centre team-mates Robyn Kime, the defending champion and U23 world marathon champion silver medallist, and Abby Adie, who won the title in the two years before Kime’s maiden win last year.

Both are in a key phase of their training for Dusi next month, and are relishing what will be a needle tussle throughout that will include the class of Jen Theron, Czech speedster Anna Adamova, emerging youngster Jordan Peek, sisters Tamika and Bianca Haw and Brittany Petersen.

The joker in the pack is Olympic bronze medallist Bridgitte Hartley, who quietly dropped in her entry for the race, vowing to paddle purely for fun.

The Drak Challenge starts at Castleburn outside Underberg today and finishes on at Early Mist Farm close to Coleford tomorrow. More information at www.drak.co.za.

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