Pietermaritzburg - Andy Birkett dropped a bombshell ahead of the 2018 Dusi Canoe Marathon from February 15 to 17 by confirming that he has scooped multiple world champion Hank McGregor as his partner for the three-day K2 championship race.
Birkett has won the Dusi K2 title four times, with three different partners - Jason Graham, Sbonelo Khwela and Lance Kime, while McGregor has also won the K2 race with the "Dusi Duke" Martin Dreyer.
With McGregor entrenched in his K2 partnership with Capetonain Jasper Mocké that has brought them repeated world K2 championship gold medals, few saw the Dusi combination with Birkett coming.
"I raised it just before the Fish this year," said Birkett.
"I was amped that he took it seriously and then got back to me and agreed to race together.
"He is such a great athlete with a phenomenal pedigree that I am so excited for this year's race," Birkett added.
While the pair have fought it out over a number of years for the various marathon titles throughout South Africa, the 2018 Dusi will be their second major outing together, after having won the 2015 Umkomaas Canoe Marathon.
Their rivalry has developed a mutual respect between the two and Birkett is looking forward to paddling in a boat with one of the all-time greats of canoeing.
"Hank has raced some great Dusi K2s races, but with paddlers that might not necessarily be specialist Dusi paddlers, so I am really keen to see what we can achieve together. We have become good friends over the years and I have a healthy respect for him."
With McGregor living and working in Durban and Birkett based in Pietermaritzburg, the team-mates will have to plan their training time together, and give themselves enough time to work out the set-up of their boat.
"I have no idea who will be driving the boat! I am holding thumbs that I can," said Birkett.
"The truth is I am happy to be in the back of the boat if the boat works well that way. I focus on enjoying my time in the boat, and with the way that the K2 combinations are coming together at the moment, I am really looking forward to the Dusi in February," he concluded.
The 2018 Dusi Canoe Marathon takes place from February 15-17 from Camps Drift in Pietermaritzburg to Blue Lagoon in Durban.