Hank McGregor takes all

2011-10-24 00:00

SINGAPORE — Durban’s Hank McGregor (33) won the world marathon K1 canoeing championship on Saturday after dominating the 30,1 km race from start to finish, defying convention and leaving the canoeing world heaping praise on his peerless performance that left a slew of former world champions reeling in his wake.

After dramatically putting down his paddles for a planned rest midway through the race, he clocked a winning time of 2:16:11, ahead of runner-up Petr Jambor (2:16:12) of the Czech Republic and Hungary’s Mate Petrovics (2:16:13).

“I am utterly stoked!” said McGregor after the reality of the enormity of his achievement started to sink in. “I guess you can say it has been one hell of a year!” he added, reflecting on a year that has seen him totally dominating river, flat-water marathon and surfski racing, becoming the first paddler to hold every single and double title in a calendar year.

“I am so chuffed for my team, Best4 Kayak Centre, and my supporters, who backed me all the way, even when I was determined to do things differently,” he said.

“I proved that it is possible to win a tough race like the Hansa Fish and then go on to win a world title two weeks later.”

McGregor attracted plenty of sceptical attention at the event because he chose to race a kayak fitted with pedals and an overstern rudder, made by a Durban kayak manufacturer, instead of using European sprint kayaks with understern rudders fitted with T-bars.

“I was so comfortable racing in a boat that I know well. It weighed in at a fraction underweight so I had to add some extra weight to my Attack, which I helped design with the Kayak Centre team,” he said.

Racing in hot and humid conditions at the marina in Singapore harbour, using the unique floating soccer pitch for the 100 metre portage at the end of each of the seven laps, McGregor started alongside multiple world champion Spaniard Manuel Busto Fernandes, defending champion Ben Brown of Britain and countryman Shaun Rubenstein, another former holder of the marathon world crown.

McGregor took control of the race from the start and by the second lap he was pulling away, defying conventional tactics that call for strong paddlers to conserve their energy for the closing stages of the race. By the fourth lap he was more than a minute in the lead, and decided to play another tactical trump card that had the huge crowd of South African supporters holding their breath.

“I stopped paddling and put down my paddles for about 45 seconds,” said McGregor. “I was pulling away and felt totally in control, but I knew that the four boats chasing bunch would have to work together to try and reel me in. It was really hot and humid so I just waited for them to catch me.”

On the fifth lap portage McGregor stumbled at the takeout, dropping his paddle into the harbour waters. However he recovered his composure and put in a superhuman sprint that saw him race right back onto the bunch.

Once the bunch realised they could not shake McGregor off, they slowed the pace right down to try and conserve energy, banking on their chances of winning the end sprint.

That allowed two following groups to catch them to put nine paddlers in the contest for the final lap, where McGregor’s barefoot portaging again saw him streaking away in the lead with just his team-mate Rubenstein and a Spanish and Czech Republic athlete able to stay with him.

The final lap ended with an unusual turn 500 metres from the finish that took the field under a unique bridge on the marina.

With the Czech paddler making a final charge, McGregor raced a pre-planned line between two bridge pillars that could only allow one kayak through, forcing the front bunch into single file.

He turned for home to raucous support from the large South African Masters Cup contingent, and held on to win by half a boat length, and claim his second world marathon K1 title.

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