Zondi, Kime leaders at Dusi

2013-02-15 00:00

DAY one of The Unlimited Dusi canoe marathon signalled a change of the guard in the men’s and women’s races. It was a day for the youngsters, who took the race by the scruff of the neck in extremely hot conditions and low water.

Despite the demanding conditions, Sibonelo Zondi took charge of the men’s race, cruising home in a stage one record time of 2:43:17, 20 seconds ahead of defending champion Andy Birkett, with the ever-improving Lance Kime third. Thulani Mbanjwa was fourth, with Hank McGregor fifth and Len Jenkins sixth.

Multiple champion Ant Stott came home just off the top 10, finishing 11th and acknowledging: “It was tough out there, but I am still going for a top 10 finish. Having not done sufficient running in training, it was a battle.”

Zondi was surprised to have set a new record and said: “My race has gone to plan and I have set my own pace. I stuck with the front group and did not panic when Andy, Lance and Thulani opened a gap.”

Making his move at Guinea Fowl portage, Zondi caught the leading trio to be first back in the water. “I put the hammer down from there to see how the others would respond,” he said. “It was vital to try to build as big an advantage as possible, but 20 seconds is not much. I must remain focused and not make any mistakes tomorrow on the big water.”

Birkett said he knew Zondi would be a strong runner and would be the man to beat when he surged past him at Guinea Fowl. “He was strong on the portages where he got away. Tomorrow I need to close the gap and be careful I don’t go too fast and make mistakes. Sibonelo has improved his paddling and will be a worthy champion if he stays ahead.”

Kime was the surprise package, his great start keeping him in touch with the leaders. Said Kime: “I was with the front paddlers to Campbell’s Farm and stayed in sight of the top two. I’m chuffed to be third, but the big names are right behind me and can never be written off. No lead is comfortable.”

The women’s top three was an all-Epworth affair, with defending champion Robyn Kime carving the field apart with a new first-day record of 3:11:21, three minutes better than the mark set by Abby Ulansky (Miedema). She was more than 14 minutes ahead of Abby Adie, with matric pupil and U18 paddler Bianca Haw third.

“For the first time in four years, I never fell out at Ernie Pearce weir, which allowed me to save time. Jen Theron set a blistering pace at the start and I was comfortable at Campbell’s,” said Kime. “I ran hard, took the lead and pushed hard. I need to be careful and build on my advantage. One slip-up could prove costly.”

Adie is looking forward to today, a day when she traditionally makes ground, enjoying the big water. “Running was hard yesterday and it killed me. Today there is more paddling, which suits me,” she said.

The smile on Haw’s face told the story of her day. “Robyn and Abby, as Epworth old girls, are my heroes and to share the podium with them is unbelievable. I am surprised to be third and can just hope for the best as the race pans out. Today, it’s a matter of staying in the boat and hoping my practising on big water has paid off,” she said.

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