All about the right decisions

2013-02-14 00:00

IT would take a brave betting man to predict the trifecta in the men’s and women’s race at this year’s Unlimited Dusi canoe marathon, which starts at Camp’s Drift today.

The seasoned campaigners, the “Dusi Rats”, take on the journey to Durban for the umpteenth time knowing every inch of the course, while up-and-coming youngsters eye the event as a platform to launch their paddling careers and get noticed.

Hands-down favourite for the men’s K1 title is three-time winner Andy Birkett. He has made the race his own and trains specifically for the event.

In paddling circles, he is a Dusi specialist and has his sights set on title number four.

“It’s a competitive year with top paddlers and previous winners in the mix. There’s nowhere to hide and it’s all up to you to decide what goes on the river,” said Birkett.

“Plenty of water has ensured full rivers, which has an effect on the race as the stronger runners will have to spend more time on the water.

“Training has gone well and I have used my logbooks from the previous years to help me along.

“It’s also about having fun for me. I relax better and enjoy the process. It helps me to focus better.”

Hank McGregor, a two-time winner, has aired his intentions, saying: “I am here to win. Being on the start line with no thoughts of winning doesn’t do it for me. I will be hitting the race hard.”

Ant Stott, also a multiple winner, has resigned himself to not being in contention as a winner, but his experience and consistency in the race have to be respected.

“There’s still pressure as I am aiming for a top 10 finish, a gold medal.

“My training has suffered due to an achilles injury, but I am prepared. Andy is the favourite but don’t write off Hank or Len [Jenkins],” said Stott.

“These days, paddlers start training early for this race, sometimes a year in advance, but it’s what happens on the water that counts.

“A slight mistake and there are a group of paddlers waiting to pounce and you quickly fall back in the placings. To predict the top three … it’s difficult, but Andy will be right there.”

Shaun Rubenstein is a dark horse, having won the race as a junior and bagging third in 2009’s K1 race.

Thulani Mbanjwa, a K2 Dusi winner, is sceptical of his chances.

“I haven’t had as much training time as previously due to business commitments, but my paddling has got stronger and I will be happy with a top five finish,” he said.

A youngster to watch is Cam Schoeman, who will be happy with a top 10 finish.

“I have two K2 top 10 places and a K1 would be great. I have shared notes with Andy, Len and Ant, and training has gone well,” he said.

In the women’s race, Robyn Kime will be looking to add to her 2011 K1 title, but will be chased all the way by an in-form Abby Adie and the consistent Hilary Pitchford.

Said Adie: “I’m feeling as strong as ever paddling-wise, and think day two, with the water release, could be crucial. I can never do enough running in training, but with no injuries and a great season where I have worked on my speed …

“Day three and decisions at Burma Road will be interesting, but I’m ready to hit the water.”

Pitchford sees it as a race of no mistakes saying: “Any mistakes or wrong lines could be crucial. I have done some tripping on the river and have had time to get my lines right.

“I think running does count, even in big water, as the boats are generally the same speed and I think the women’s race will be a race in itself every day.

“Robyn knows how to win, Abby is firing and I am waiting to pick up the pieces.”

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