Dusi: mom greets new champ

2011-02-21 00:00

TWENTY-YEAR-OLD Andrew Birkett made it back-to-back Unlimited Dusi Canoe Marathons on Saturday, and immediately had to talk down comparisons with the legendary, late Graeme Pope-Ellis.

“No way, I would never compare myself to ‘the Pope’,” the wiry Birkett said.

“What he did in the Dusi was unbelievable, and it would take me years to even get close to achieving what he did.

“Maybe talk to me in 15 years,” he offered, before adding, “Maybe even 20. The competition is getting tougher and tougher you know.”

Birkett held off that competition on Saturday morning, as he secured his first K1 title with a sprint against the indefatigable Ant Stott, providing the greatest Dusi finish ever.

Robyn Kime won the women’s title, and said the win would be cherished forever.

“I’m really chuffed with the win, especially considering it is the 60th anniversary of the race and the Graeme Pope-Ellis memorial,” she added. “It’s definitely one I’ll cherish at the end of my career.”

Stott, who was the most gracious of silver medallists, commended young Birkett on an outstanding race.

“Wow, Andy Birkett. What a phenomenal race. He raced all three days perfect, and I couldn’t have done any better out there,” the former champion conceded.

“I was thoroughly impressed, and all I can say is well done to him.”

Stott’s good grace and sportmanship were all part of a race that will be remembered as much for its incredible finish as it will be for the camaraderie between competitors.

As a Maritzburg College old boy, Birkett and numerous other top paddlers took great joy when a “rival school” was in a spot of bother during the first day.

“As we went down Ernie Pearce Weir, there were College boys standing on the bank doing the school war-cry,” he remarked.

“And on the Weir, there were three College boys — Andy, Len Jenkins and myself — going down together, and one DHS guy [Hank McGregor] going down the Weir backwards. It was awesome,” he grinned.

Birkett, upon reaching the finish, received a warm embrace from his mother, Margaret.

“She has had to put up with mood swings for the last three months while I trained for this,” he explained.

Ecstatic father David was just amazed how Birkett’s thin arms had carried him over the line.

“I have no idea where the strength comes from,” he beamed proudly.

“Those things look like they are about to snap off.”

Birkett’s dream day on Saturday was rounded off in some style, as some 40 000 spectators at the Super 15 match between the Sharks and the Cheetahs gave him a standing ovation during half-time, as those weary, wiry arms carried the boat across the field for a lap of honour.

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