A team to remember

2014-02-17 00:00

IF a smile could say a thousand words, it wouldn’t have been enough to convey Sbonelo Zondi’s joy and emotions at winning this year’s K2 Dusi Canoe Marathon with Andy Birkett on Saturday.

In horse racing terms, this pairing were the outstanding thoroughbreds in the field, outright favourites from the start who never let their supporters down in delivering one of the slickest, smoothest and most dominating performances seen for many a year. They won by more than the proverbial mile and have left their mark on the race as one of the greatest combinations to conquer the three-day trip.

They won with just over nine minutes to spare, leaving the strong Hank McGregor/Jasper Mocke duo in their wake. Starting day three from Inanda Dam with a 9:30 advantage, Birkett and Zondi’s mission was to reach Durban as fast as possible. They charged to their destination, portaging at Burma Road and taking an incredible 24 minutes to conquer the feared obstacle. This time around, there was to be no final day blues for Zondi, who joined Thulani Mbanjwa (2007 with Martin Dreyer) as the second black paddler to claim a Dusi title.

“It has always been my dream to win the Dusi and now it has come true. Last year, I had the lead going into the final day and a mistake cost me,” he said. “Once we took the lead on day one, we put the hammer down and made sure we stayed ahead.”

For Birkett, this was his fourth title, having slipped to sixth last year. “We are more than elated,” he said. “It’s been a journey that has culminated in this win and I am super chuffed.”

It’s been a year of hard work and discipline for the pair who have become firm friends off the water. When they decided to join forces for this year’s race, there was no question they meant business and nothing less than bagging the title was the mindset.

“Burma was the key for us and we took off to try and stretch our lead,” said Birkett. “We definitely saved our best for the big occasion as it’s the quickest we have ever been at the portage, even better than the time trial a few weeks back.”

McGregor and Mocke were gracious in defeat after three days of endless catch- up. “We gave every day our best effort, but have come second to an outstanding pair who have shown how to take on the race,” said McGregor. “They were phenomenal.”

For Mocke, traditionally a surfski paddler, this was his second Dusi (he was fifth with Craig Turton in 2012) and he had no qualms about being second and on the podium.

“It’s been an incredible three days. To finish second and paddle with Hank has made it an experience to remember. Next year I would love to be part of it again.”

Third home were Cam Schoeman and Czech Republic partner Jakub Adam. “We went around Burma to try and secure our third spot from the charging Lance Kime and Thulani Mbanjwa,” said Schoeman. “Jakub has been amazing. His power and strength has got us through and I will miss him when he goes back home.”

Kime and Mbanjwa, who had worked their way from 30th to 17th and fifth by the end of day two after their cockpit was ripped at Commercial Weir on day one, finished fourth, just over five minutes behind Schoeman and Adam.

The women’s race was a closer affair, with Robyn Kime and Abbey Ulansky managing to stay ahead of Abbey Adie and Anna Adamova with a little more than a minute between them after three days on the water. It was a record ninth Dusi title for Ulansky and the third K2 win for the combination.

“We are over the moon to get three in a row, especially considering we have had other commitments this year and only trained hard for a few weeks,” said Ulanksy. “We have built a great partnership and had to really work at it this year as the opposition comes at you harder every time.”

Adie gave it her all, but had to settle for her sixth consecutive second place. “It’s disappointing, but that’s what river racing is about. We gave it our all and came so close yet it was not meant to be … again.” she said.

Her time could be near as Ulansky announced her retirement from competitive racing at the Dusi and Kime departs shortly for some hiking, sailing and mountain climbing in South America.

The Haw sisters — Bianca and Tamika — held on for third, their eternal smiles an indication that the three days had just been a barrel of fun and laughs.

For many other paddlers, it was more relief and exhaustion as they won a bet, conquered a challenge or quietly added another notch in the stick to their Dusi accomplishments.

Men’s Overall Results (Top 5)

Andy Birkett/Sbonelo Zondi 7:44.50

Hank McGregor/Jasper Mocké 7:53.59

Cam Schoeman/ Jakub Adam (CZE) 8:10.09

Lance Kime/Thulani Mbanjwa 8:15.34

Kwanda Mhlophe/Zonele Nzuza 8:17.59

Women’s Overall Results (Top 5)

Robyn Kime/Abbey Ulansky 8:50.59

Abby Adie/Anna Adamova 8:52.06

Tamika Haw/Bianca Haw 9:36.35

Hilary Bruss/Alex Adie 9:43.20

Jen Theron/Jane Swarbreck 9:46.12.

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