Dusi dynamos brace for a battle

2012-02-16 00:00

A BUMPER field of over 1 800 paddlers has assembled for the start of the 61st edition of The Unlimited Dusi canoe marathon today.

The K2 championship race is poised to provide three days of cut-throat racing from Camps Drift in Pieter­maritzburg to Blue lagoon in Durban, with no clear favourite in either the men’s or women’s races.

Three boats loom large at the front of the seeded men’s A batch, carrying the strongest hopes of racing onto the podium. Defending champions Andy Birkett and Jason Graham have completed a flawless and at times secretive preparation for the defence of their title, but will be under severe pressure from dream team Thulani Mbanjwa and Sibonelo Zondi and new world marathon champion Hank McGregor and his partner Len Jenkins.

But there are several other crews looking to upset the apple cart, including Olympic sprinter Shaun Rubenstein and Steve Farrell, the talented Change-A-Life Academy duo of brothers Richard and Nhlanhla Cele, U23 stars Kwanda Mhlope and Lance Kime, Brandon van der Walt and Clinton Cook, and Cape surfski ace Jasper Mocké with Underberg tough man Craig Turton.

The race also includes five elite male paddlers from the Czech Republic — world champs K2 bronze medallists Michal Odvarko and Jakub Adam, Martin Kolanda and Thomas Jezek and Lukáš Kusovský, who will be paddling with local Dusi stalwart Wayne Wilson.

In the women’s race, the Adie twins from Howick have been the season pacesetters and Alex Adie’s decision to commit to her sister for the 2012 race before heading abroad for her gap year suggests they mean business. They are evenly matched against defending champions Abbey Ulansky and Robin Kime, who only confirmed their partnership late in December. “Dusi Queen” Ulansky knows how to race this race, having won seven of her ten starts.

The women’s race was shaken up by the last-minute entry of Olympian Jen Hodson and rising Under 23 star Tamika Haw, originally paired with Hilary Pitchford, who was forced to withdraw with a broken wrist.

With mild weather and no major rainfall predicted for the duration of the race, the 120-km, three-stage event will start on the reliable medium flow from the full release from Henley dam, and finish on a release of water from Inanda dam for the third and final stage into Durban.

The only variable is the fabled water release from Nagle dam that fuels the long second stage from the confluence with the uMngeni river to Inanda dam. The sluices at Nagle dam don’t offer the luxury of graduated flow but release a substantial “bullet” of water down river.

The key issue for paddlers is where they encounter this surge of water as the levels of the Mngeni rise and then drop dramatically, leaving some obstacles significantly more dangerous than normal river conditions.

The Duct team monitoring water quality are quietly optimistic that the Msunduzi will return to the favourable paddling water quality that paddlers have enjoyed this season at Camps Drift.

G batch will be made up by the 60 boats that helped to raise a new record R368 000 for the race charities The Unlimited Child, as well as the SPCA and Duct.

The youngest paddler in the field is Michaelhouse paddler Campbell Green (15), paddling with matric pupil Mark Brown. The oldest paddler entered is Arthur Duncan (77).

Seconds and spectators can follow the race with a new app running on www.dusi.co.za that will offer real-time commentary from a number of experts in the valley. Follow the links for the Dusi website homepage.

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