Records tumble in big water at 20th edition of the Drak Challenge

2013-01-21 00:00

UNDERBERG — An action-packed weekend on the mighty Umzimkulu River for the 20th edition of the N3TC Drak Challenge was one to remember for under-23 world marathon champ Grant van der Walt.

He earned his first senior singles river marathon title when he narrowly outsprinted Len Jenkins on yesterday’s second and final stage. In so doing, he smashed the men’s overall and second stage records by 11 and 20 minutes respectively.

The win will be one the Team Best 4 Kayak Centre athlete will treasure for many years to come, having worked his way through the ranks over the past few years under the guidance of Hank McGregor.

The pace of the two-day contest is set to be a topic of conversation as no fewer than 26 K1s crossed the line in times quicker than the previous overall record.

“I’m just super stoked,” said an elated Van der Walt. “It was an awesome couple of days of racing and winning is amazing. It’s special to have won my first race here at the Drak as it has been my favourite race since I raced it for the first time seven years ago.

“It’s always great when Hank and I race against each other and it was unfortunate he wasn’t here. However, I’m chuffed with the win and look forward to the next K1 race,” he added.

Having started side by side, the lead pair were soon joined by Brandon van der Walt and Donovan Wewege, and the four-boat group watched each other closely until the compulsory portage at Mineshaft Weir saw things shaken up.

Jenkins made his move shortly before the compulsory portage and opened up a significant lead shortly after the put in.

“Len put in first and really worked hard to get away,” said Van der Walt.

“I unfortunately got a bit stuck as I put in, which cost me about 30 seconds, and when I looked up, Len was almost out of sight.

“I was faced with either settling for second place or to dig deep and try for the win. I put my head down and managed to catch Len with about a kilometre to go. I edged ahead in the final rapid and was able to finish a couple of lengths ahead of him.”

Three times Drak winner Jenkins had to settle for his third consecutive Drak Challenge second place, having finish behind McGregor in 2011 and 2012.

The younger of the Van der Walts, Brandon, finished third.

Under-23 newcomer Donovan Wewege claimed the surprise result of the weekend, finishing fourth overall, with Gauteng based veteran Jacques Theron rounding out the top five.

It was multiple Drak winner Ant Stott who posted the fastest time of the day in the men’s top 20 as he rose from 11th to seventh, and under-23 paddler Gavin Shuter also snuck into the top ten.

Czech Republic marathon paddler Jakub Adam also had an impressive second day’s performance, moving up from 20th to 14th overall.

The women’s race was once again dominated by Abby Adie and Robyn Kime, with Adie coming out trumps for the third time in four years and in the process, smashing the women’s second stage and overall records by 17 and 37 minutes respectively.

Kime erased Adie’s overnight lead of 33 seconds by halfway through the 38 km second stage and the pair continued side by side until shortly before Heaven and Hell Rapid, which saw Kime have a contest ending swim, handing Adie the title.

“Robs and I had a brilliant race and I’m happy to have won,” said Adie.

“It was a shame Robs swam towards the end because she was probably the stronger of the two of us on the day.

“It came down to making the least mistakes and fortunately that’s what I was able to do.”

After Michelle Eder and Jen Theron spent much of the second stage together, even swimming at the same rapid, it was Theron who recovered stronger to secure third place.

Under-23 paddlers Brittany Petersen and Jenna Ward rounded out the women’s top five.

Having been disallowed to paddle on Saturday’s heaving river, junior members of the field welcomed the return to action on yesterday’s second stage and it was one, two, three for Maritzburg College in the junior boys’ race as Louis Hattingh, Damon Stamp and Travis Wilson claimed the podium spots, while Epworth’s Bianca Haw walked away with the junior girls’ spoils.

The 20th anniversary celebrations were heightened further when Owen Hemmingway crossed the line having completed all 20 editions of the event.

“The first one definitely sticks in the memory, but this one, having made it through Saturday’s massive river, is probably just as special considering it was probably even a bit bigger than it was in the first race in 1994,” said Hemmingway.

— Gameplan Media.

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