Birkett & Solms claim Dusi Victory

2017-02-18 19:26
FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon men's category winner Andy Birkett celebrates after bagging victory at Durban’s Blue Lagoon on Saturday afternoon.

FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon men's category winner Andy Birkett celebrates after bagging victory at Durban’s Blue Lagoon on Saturday afternoon. (Ian Carbutt)

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There was no change at the top of the leader board in the men’s and women’s races in the 2017 edition of the FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon, Andy Birkett and Abby Solms establishing themselves on day one and bagging victory at Durban’s Blue Lagoon on Saturday afternoon.

For Birkett, he secured his seventh win in the race, equalling the feat of Martin Dreyer and bar 2013 where Lance Kime beat him into second, he has won every race since 2010. While he won by more than 20 minutes, Birkett acknowledged this was a tough race, particularly the last day where low water below Inanda Dam meant more running than paddling.

“I under-estimated the elements and by Pumphouse, I was broken. Everyone who finished the race more than deserves their medals and this was a new experience for me with the river being so low,” he said. “In previous years there have been currents and assistance from the river to navigate but this time I had to adapt, choose different lines and generally think of different options all the time.”

Sbonelo Khwela was a popular second, one better than his two third places in the previous two K1 races. His huge smile as he crossed the line and his massive support is testimony to his class and the respect he so richly commands in the race. He started the final day a few seconds behind Hank McGregor and while he had no chance of catching Birkett, he wanted to make second place his own.

“The final day was one of long running. Hank started quickly on the dam and I decided to do my own thing and pace myself well,” he said. “We were together at the Burma Road takeout and once I took off up Burma, I looked around and did not see Hank. I never saw him at Pumphouse and from there it was a matter of holding on to second. It is an honour to finish second to Andy who is a `machine’ when it comes to this race.”

McGregor found the going tough. Lack of water meant more running and he eventually relinquished third to a strong-finishing Thulani Mbanjwa who was fifth after the first two days. “It was not an easy day but my legs were strong after Inanda Dam and I decided to push hard,” said Mbanjwa. “At the top of Burma I was 20 seconds behind Hank and I knew I had to open a good gap to hold him off. I felt strong most of the day and managed to keep him at bay for that third spot.”

A man as strong and as tough as McGregor admitted the day had taken it out of him. “I took strain. I managed a lead over Sbonelo by the end of Inanda Dam but he killed me at Burma. When Thulani caught me I was spinning and just did my best to stay in the race,” he said. “It was a runner’s day and it was difficult to make any time paddling. However, I am glad to have been part of the toughest Dusi on record.”

Solms perhaps looked the best or everyone as she finally got rid of her bridesmaid’s tag to take a K1 title. “I had a race where I seemed to get stronger after each day. I enjoyed the first part of the race and found the stronger the challenge, the more I thrived,” she said. “Day three has normally been like a sprint in the past but this was more of an adventure race.”

Epworth matric pupil Christie Mackenzie (17) was outstanding in finishing second. “Day two when I fell back to third was exhausting but I enjoyed the running on the last day although it was difficult. This has been a learning curve for me and I was excited to be in the race. Finishing second hasn’t quite set in yet,” she said.

A brave and determined Bridgitte Hartley finished third, spent and exhausted as she crossed the line. Reports were coming through of her vomiting and being delirious still some way from Durban and a helicopter was on standby to pull off a possible rescue. Yet she dug in, wanting to finish her first K1 race. Sweepers paddled with her to ensure her safety and when she crossed the line, she flopped into the water, eventually having a few seconds on her own to reflect. She was whisked away to the medical tent where she was put on a drip but by early evening, she had recovered and was fine.

This was a tough Dusi and perhaps Birkett summed it up best. “I am happy to get another win but I am not here to break records. No-one is bigger than the race.”

Overall Men’s Dusi Results

Andy Birkett 8:32:53

Sbonelo Khwela 8:56:23

Thulani Mbanjwa 9:04:28

Hank McGregor 9:09:29

Jakub Adam 9:11:58

Women’s Results

Abby Solms 10:16:03

Christie Mackenzie 11:05:50

Bridgitte Hartley 11:26:41

Alex Adie 11:57:43

Kerry Segal 12:14:37

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  dusi canoe marathon

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