MOST pundits would look to Andy Birkett and Lance Kime or Hank McGregor and Jasper Mocké as the teams to beat in this year’s FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon.When it comes to a dark horse duo, however, the combination of former Dusi champ Len Jenkins Jnr and Siseko Ntondini bears watching.Jenkins is one of the most talented paddlers ever seen in South Africa, while Ntondini, from the Soweto Canoe and Recreation Club (Scarc), is a talent on the rise. He boasts a best Dusi K1 finish of 11th in 2011 and a best of seventh in a K2, which he achieved with Piers Cruickshanks in 2014. Ntondini began canoeing in 2006 for fun, but he soon changed his focus, said recently: “When I recognised that black guys are doing well, I became motivated to also do that. Years ago, I started coming down to train in the valley with Bungee [2008 Dusi winner Thulani Mbanjwa]. He was one of my motivators.” It was Ntondini who approached Jenkins to be his partner, even though he described him as being “fat” at the time. “He was a top paddler, but I knew he had been away [from competition] for two or three years,” Ntondini said.“He doubted me. He said ‘Do you want to paddle with me?’ and I said ‘Yes’. He said ‘look at me’, because he was fat then. I said ‘I just want to be with you in a boat’. He said he would think about it.“After a week, I went to my sponsor Brad Fisher and told him I had spoken to Len, but wasn’t sure if he was keen or not. I asked him to give Len a prod.”Jenkins and Ntondini then decided to tackle the Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon together. “Len said he wasn’t going to give it a go in the Fish,” Ntondini recalled. “I told him I just wanted to be in the boat with him. Len said we will try for the top 10. I said okay.”Once the race, in October 2015, started Jenkins’s competitive streak kicked in and he exhorted Ntondini to push hard. By the end of day one, the pair were fourth in the standings. “Len said we have to drop Brandon van der Walt and Stu Maclaren. I said ‘I will see about it’. We had to go hard in the rapids, and what he planned, we did. I pushed hard and Brandon and Stu had some bad luck. They dinged their boat. So we came third in the Fish. That was a good thing.”Ntondini and Jenkins had not planned on doing the FNB Dusi, but after their strong performance in the Hansa Fish Jenkins asked the Scarc star to do some K2 races in KwaZulu-Natal, including the Dam to Dam and the Umpetha Challenge, a Dusi qualifier.Ntondini said: “He said we had to do the Umpetha Challenge to see if we could do the Dusi. For the Umpetha Challenge, we were not fit for the running, but we were fit in the water. We ran slowly, but we managed to finish fourth. He said ‘let’s give it a go for Dusi’. I said ‘yes, that would be very nice’.”The pair began training for the three-day, 120 km race together in December and spent that month in the Dusi valley. Since January, Ntondini has been training in Durban.“We’ve been training hard and pushing it. We have been running a lot. We’re hoping for a good result in the Dusi, hopefully top five,” he said.