Pietermaritzburg - The 64th edition of the globally renowned three day, 120km long paddling and running adventure from Pietermaritzburg to Durban gets underway on Thursday amidst an atmosphere of remembrance, history and excitement.
Legendary South African conservationist and founder of the Dusi, Dr. Ian Player, who passed away on Sunday, November 30, 2014 will be at the centre of the race’s focus this year and the 1 400 participants will pay special tribute to the man who so passionately paved the way for the iconic race to become what it is today.
Participants and paddling enthusiasts, spectators and sponsors will gather at Natal Canoe Club’s headquarters at Camps Drift prior to the start of this year’s race to salute the race’s pioneer and first ever winner.
Individuals will also honour the great man in their own special way over the course of the 2015 Dusi with 74-year-old Hugh Raw and 72-year-old Ian Ross two such participants.
Like Player’s maiden voyage in December 1951, Raw and Ross plan on tackling the gruelling three day encounter in handcrafted canvas and wood boats and will help each other share the load of the heavy craft on the portages by both carrying an end of both boats, all the while sporting khaki outfits and animal print-trimmed hats of the 1950s.
The hot and dry conditions that have gripped the province this summer have many expecting an experience much like that which paddlers of the 1970s were used to, while the reopening of the old Nqumeni portage route on Friday’s second stage will be another fitting ‘blast from the past’.
After much support from the elder generation of paddlers, the 2015 Dusi will also see the re-introduction of the age-old tradition of tea and doughnuts being available to all finishers at the end of every day.
Up front, the men’s race promises to be hard-fought affair as the ‘Fantastic Four’ pre-race title favourites of Andy Birkett, Sbonelo Khwela, Lance Kime and Thulani Mbanjwa look to overcome each other as well as the rest of the charging field in a bid for this year’s coveted K1 title.
Kime comes into this year’s clash as defending champ and the Euro Steel star will hope his consistent ways of 2013 will again be enough to see him reign supreme.
Having smashed almost every Under-23 records possible two years ago and a handful of senior time benchmarks as well, the former Stellenbosch University student will undoubtedly be a force again in 2015.
Euro Steel’s Andy Birkett is comes into the clash as odds-on favourite for many however, with just one K1 title amongst his collection of four Dusi victories and an untimely rib injury still lingering, the top step of the podium is by no means fait accompli for the 24-year-old star.
2013’s fairytale turned into heartbreak and disappointment in a matter of seconds for Sbonelo Khwela (Euro Steel/Red Bull) after an agonising swim at Pumphouse Weir just kilometres from the finish undid his remarkable hard work of stage one and two - which included a setting new record time for the opening stage - and saw the young talent eventually limp home in third place.
Since then Khwela has secured a maiden Dusi title when he and Birkett clinched the 2014 K2 title in commanding fashion. However it is the singles crown that the Shongweni Valley resident so desperately craves.
Thulani Mbanjwa is the fourth and final member of the quartet and the Build It/Williams Hunt paddler is in the form of his last five seasons.
Mbanjwa famously raced to victory with Martin Dreyer in 2008 to become the first black paddler to win the race and the 31-year-old is hungry to put in another strong performance this year.
Banesti Nkhoesa, Andrew Houston and Soweto Canoe and Recreation Club (SCARC) trio Loveday Zondi, Siseko Ntondini and Thando Ngamlana - among others - will be eager to throw their hat into the top five contenders’ ring too and with such talent in the chase pack, the chance of the race record breaking the eight hour mark for the first time is realistic, even given the moderate river levels that are expected.
Adriàn Boros is one of a handful of international paddlers making the intercontinental journey to South Africa’s east coast for the occasion and the young Hungarian is adamant he can put in a stronger performance than his 2014 K2 debut which saw he and partner Gàbor Màthé finish 69th.
The women race will lack its two main rivals of the past half-decade as Robyn Kime continues her international travels while Abby Adie (Natal Canoe Club/Kayak Centre) opts for a more social approach in 2015 as she tackles this year’s clash with her father, Graham.
Adie’s isn’t the only elite presence in the mixed doubles category as she joins five time Marathon World Champ Hank McGregor (Jeep Team/Kayak Centre) and his wife Pippa as well as four time Dusi winner Ant Stott (Pope’s Canoe Centre/Matelec) and his mom Beth.
Adie’s decision will see her Dusi victory duck continue however her absence from the front of the women’s challenge has opened the door for another multiple Dusi bridesmaid to challenge for a maiden title, Laura O’Donoghue.
Having waited in the wings for some time and then spent some time away from the sport while living in Zambia, O’Donoghue returned to competitive racing at the start of the KZN river marathon season and is relishing a shot at adding a Dusi crown to her second places efforts in 2006, 2007 and 2008.
O’Donoghue’s strongest challenge is likely to come from eleventh hour entrant Jenna Ward while the experienced Hilary Bruss (CPS Seedlings), Peek sisters Jordan (Euro Steel) and Cana as well as 2014 podium finisher Tamika Haw will all be eyeing out a top three finish.
A little further back in the women’s field 17-year-old Thokoza Mnganga High School pupil Nokukhanya Shange aims to become the youngest ever black female K1 Dusi finisher in the history of the race as she looks to do battle with Cana Peek and the rest of the junior girls’ field for a spot on the age group’s podium.
The junior boys challenge looks set to be one dominated in numbers by Martin Dreyer’s large Computershare Change a Life Academy contingent with the likes of Mswaenkosi Mtolo, Bongani Ntinga, Mpilo Zondi and Siyanda Gwamande set to lead the revolutionary outfit’s charge.
The Change a Life youngsters will however have to overcome the challenge of Michaelhouse’s Alan Houston as well as SCARC’s determined Siyabonga Tyiki.
The 64th edition of the Dusi will see a new level being set on the technological front live timing is welcomed to the race for the first time while day three of the clash will be streamed live globally via the race website, www.dusi.co.za
Ivan Willmot, better known as Yellow Van Man for his iconic yellow 1965 Ford Transit, will reach a remarkable milestone in 2015 as he is set to serve the race as a volunteer for the 50th year while on the water, Nigel Briggs seeks to become the seventh paddler to surpass the mark of 40 Dusi finishes.
The race’s charity batch was renamed the Dr Ian Player Memorial Charity Batch as part of the special tributes the race’s legendary founder and paddlers dug deep to support the initiative as a new record collection of R381 712,61 which will be distributed across the Dusi Valley Paddlers Fund, Magqubu Ntombela Memorial Foundation and Dusi Umgeni Conservation Trust (DUCT).
The 64th edition of the Dusi Canoe Marathon takes place from Camps Drift in Pietermaritzburg to Blue Lagoon in Durban from Thursday 19 to Saturday 21 February 2015. More information can be found at www.dusi.co.za