Energetic duo surprise

2010-01-22 00:00

THE Dusi Canoe Marathon is primed for an almighty tussle today, after Andrew Birkett and Jason Graham upstaged pre-race favourites Ant Stott and Michael Mbanjwa in yesterday’s frenetic first stage.

Birkett, who won the junior title last year, was a source of seemingly endless energy, and Graham was equally so on a day that went swimmingly well for the duo.

Despite reports that Birkett had begun to tire ahead of Mission Rapids, he simply kept up the tempo as he and Graham took an unexpected lead of 1 min:13 sec.

“We knew that they would be under pressure as favourites,” Graham said.

“So we just really pushed and, to be honest, we had a really great day out there,” he continued.

“All we can do now is push as hard as we can, because we know Ant’s record on the second day of the Dusi,” he added.

Stott and Mbanjwa, meanwhile, said that they had been surprised at how well the race leaders had done in the water.

“We knew that they would be very strong on the portages, but they really surprised us with their speed on the water,” Stott explained.

“I think they had a phenomenal day … they looked so strong on the boat.”

After a tight start that saw four boats bunched together all the way to Witness Weir, Birkett and Graham made their move by portaging on the conventional route before Pine Tree, while Mbanjwa and Stott paddled on, and that is where the leaders pulled away.

“We had a bit of problem with the rudder, which kept on clicking out of place,” Mbanjwa revealed.

“We probably lost about 10 to 15 seconds each time fixing it, but it wasn’t a major issue.”

Stott said that they were bracing themselves for a massive effort today, with the goal to catch Birkett and Graham as soon as possible. “Obviously they will be pushing hard, but if we can catch them before the dam, then I think we will be okay,” he said.

“Ideally, we would like to catch them within an hour, maybe at Confluence [a major rapid where the Msunduzi and Mngeni rivers meet], because even if we are just behind them by the river, it’s very hard to drop a boat on the water.”

The battle for third place went to the Lembethe Club pairing of Eric Zondi and Thomas Ngidi, who were tussling against the experienced duo of Piers Cruikshanks and Jacques Theron.

Zondi and Ngidi caught their rivals at Guinea Fowl, and simply pulled away.

What made their excellent start even more remarkable was that Zondi had come into the race nursing a “broil” on his shoulder.

In the women’s race, it was serenely simple for champion Abbey Mediema and young Robyn Kime.

They steadily built up a lead of five minutes by the end, with Miedema praising Kime for her excellent river knowledge.

“She was great out there, and it helps so much when you have someone on the boat that knows what you are going to do,” Miedema said.

Kime, who juggles here time betwween the water and being a top civil engineer student in Stellenbosch, added that they were very happy with a first day that had few problems — and no swimming!

The tussle for second place was a much tighter affair, with Jen Hodson and Hillary Pitchford only two seconds ahead of Abby Adie and Lindy Harmsen.

The duelling sets may yet help each other catch the frontrunners, and the Miedema/Kime combo was wary of that possibility.

“Obviously two boats in tandem can push each other on, so it would be better for us if they did split up at some stage,” Miedema said.

After a first day of few spills, there should be plenty of thrills in today’s more technical section, with strategy around rapids bound to affect placings.



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