Zondi a major contender for Dusi crown

2013-01-25 00:00

DESPITE winning the non-stop Dusi twice and being on the podium in a K2 Dusi, Shongweni paddler Sbonelo Zondi has never quite asserted his authority as a K1 paddler in the traditional three-day Dusi.

It’s something firmly entrenched in the back of his mind and, looking at his build-up and preparation for next month’s race, it’s clear to see he wants to conquer this hurdle and add the Dusi singles title to his CV.

He’s on the right track, having won the Hi-Q Marathon at Albert Falls Dam, a race that gives a taste of the Dusi portages and also a Dusi seeding race. In surging to victory, he beat Lance Kime and Cam Schoeman, also seen as possible podium finishes at this year’s Dusi.

Granted, many of the top paddlers did not race at Albert Falls, but every ounce of confidence counts and to be on the Dusi start line with such a vital ingredient in the tank is half the battle won.

Zondi said: “Even though some of the big names were missing, I needed to race, push hard and improve my Dusi seeding. I need to be on the front row as I am nowhere near the quickest on flat water and will have to pull out all the stops to stay in touch with the big guns as we approach Ernie Pearce Weir, the first testing obstacle in the race.”

Zondi added that winning at Albert Falls did not come easy and he had to “dig deep” to beat Kime and Schoeman who are “both super strong”.

Could this be the spark Zondi needs finally to assert himself as a respected K1 Dusi paddler? “It’s great to win, but it means the other paddlers would have taken notice. That could work in my favour; to be seen as a threat, but it’s up to me to control how I approach the race. Day one has always been my favourite day of the three and I will have to work hard from the beginning and see where I am after that opening day,” he said.

Running is one of Zondi’s strong points and it’s here where he hopes to make ground on day one. Zondi said: “If I have a cushion at the end of day one, I must use it wisely as day two is never one of my best. I tend to hang in and consolidate what position I have.”

Off the water, Zondi has been putting in the hard yards, running up to three times a week and conditioning himself for matters off the water during the race. If he plans his race with precision, he could win the epic event more off the water than actually paddling.

“Luckily, I have remained in good shape with no injuries. I am feeling good and my legs are strong. With the race drawing near [February 14 to 16], I need to be careful and monitor my training,” he said.

While a podium finish would be a dream come true for Zondi, his goal is a top-five finish at least. However, as a seasoned paddler, he knows that no presumptions can be made on the water.

“It boils down to how things work out every day. If I do things right, take the right lines and make no mistakes, I could be up there mixing it with the big names,” he said.

And how big those names are. Zondi would do well to thwart the challenge of Dusi legends such as Andy Birkett, Thulani Mbanjwa, Hank McGregor, Len Jenkins, Ant Stott and Jason Graham among others.

Then again, such is the joy of sport that an upset is always possible.

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