Cradock – Len Jenkins claimed a sixth victory in succession in the Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon, pipping Hank McGregor to the finish line at the end of a titanic battle over two days and 82 kilometres, continuing his domination of the event in a K1 and in the process claimed the 2012 SA K1 title as well.
Jenkins and McGregor had been neck and neck for the majority of the event, which was doubling as the SA K1 river champs, and for the first time decades it came down to an end sprint to separate the pair with Jenkins getting the decisive jump on McGregor just meters from the finish line.
Jenkins, dubbed the “Fisher King” for his uncanny dominance in this race for more than a decade, was full of praise for his adversaries after seizing control of the race in the closing stages when McGregor was slowed by waves in the Golf Course rapids.
“I’d definitely rank my first win in 2001 as the most memorable but it’s still great to have one and it was nice to have a good race against Hank (McGregor),” said Jenkins.
“It was a different win. It was a really strong field this year and there were a lot of good guys here. Hank (McGregor) and Grant (van der Walt) are fantastic athletes so it was tough.”
“I tried not to do too much work today. With Grant (van der Walt) just behind us obviously he was always going to do his best to catch us and I could’ve tried to fight it but I decided to take it easy instead and it paid off for me in the end,” he added.
Having started the day together the pair were then caught by van der Walt between Long Acre bridge and Gauging Weir and the three then made their way towards the notorious Cradock Weir.
Jenkins and McGregor then shot the major obstacle in the most unconventional manner when the two of them went over the weir at precisely the same time and remarkably both boats and paddlers paddled on unscathed with van der Walt left twenty meters off the pace.
“It used to be faster shooting from left to right but since they removed the sandbank its actually quicker the other way around now and so I made sure I was on the outside which gave me the chance to get going again first,” said Jenkins.
McGregor, however, was not done yet and put in a superb interval to catch and pace the defending champ. A rare mistake through Golf Course rapid by McGregor gave Jenkins the gap he needed and through he went.
“After Len got away at Cradock I managed to catch and pass him after a kilometer but then I just hit a couple of stopper waves at the bottom which really slowed me down and I just couldn’t get past again,” said McGregor.
“Full credit to him though. He’s a phenomenal paddler, especially on the Fish River, and deserved the win. He timed it right and it all worked out for him.”
“It was a good race though. It was close the whole way and was anyone’s race all the way up until Cradock Weir,” he added.
Van der Walt had to settle for the third step on the podium finishing fifty meters behind the leaders after a monumental effort on the second stage.
Local hero Greg Louw powered his way into fourth place ahead of Lance Kime and Cam Schoeman.
“I didn’t quite realize Cam (Schoeman) was that strong and Lance was just impossible to shake off,” said Louw. “Cam (Schoeman) had an unfortunate swim at Gauging Weir though and I went over Cradock Weir ahead of Lance and from there I just put my head down and managed to get clear.”
“There were six world champs in their various categories out there this year and only three of them finished ahead of me so I’m very chuffed,” he added.
Overnight leader in the ladies’ race, Michéle Eray, enjoyed a career highlight when she crossed the line ahead of former defending champ Robyn Kime, becoming the first Eastern Cape paddler to win the K1 title in fifteen years.
“I’m absolutely over the moon,” said Eray. “Daniël won the Fish when I was in matric so to now win the race myself all these years later and take over from him is amazing.”
“The Sella and the Fish were the last two races he won before he passed away in 1998 and I won the Sella earlier this year and now this just incredible,” she added.
The win was even sweeter for Eray after the former Olympian was forced out of action by a debilitating wrist injury for much of 2011 and this year’s event being her first major race, other than her efforts at the recent World Marathon Champs in Rome, since august last year.
“Obviously I haven’t exactly had the most ideal preparation for this race with not much time to train so I just had to go with what I knew,” said Eray.
“Today was meant to be easier with it being shorter but I actually felt worse than I did yesterday. I just tried to keep it at 90 percent throughout the day and a group of guys caught me early on so I stayed with them until my swim at Gauging Weir.”
“Fortunately I still had enough of a buffer to portage Cradock and I’m super stoked to have won,” she added.
Kime claimed the silver medal with her team Best 4 Kayak Centre team mate Abby Adie claiming bronze.
“I felt a little stronger today than yesterday but Mich (Eray) was just too good,” said Kime. “It was a great race though and as always it was lots of fun.”
“I also didn’t swim today which helps things and which doesn’t happen often for me.”
“I couldn’t see Mich (Eray) by the time I got to Cradock so decided just to go for it and it was great to make it cleanly,” she added.
Jenna Ward had a superb two days as she came home in fourth place with ICF World Marathon Series champion Hilary Pitchford rounding out the top five.
Grant van der Walt claimed the men’s under 23 title ahead of Lance Kime and van der Walt’s younger brother, Brandon whilst it was Robyn Kime, Abby Adie and Jenna ward who claimed first, second and third in the women’s under 23 encounter.
In the hotly contested junior boys category it was KZN’s Murray Starr who claimed the top spoils ahead of under 16 Louis Hattingh and Murray Haw. The junior girls race was just as tight with Jordan Peek claiming the title, Kerry Segal finished second and Kerry Shuter third.
International paddlers figured prominently once again, with Australian Josh Kippen sixteenth, just behind Czech Republic star Jakub Adam, who is committing five months to preparing for The Unlimited Dusi in February with his K2 partner Michael Odvarko, who finished nineteenth.
Olympic bronze medalist Brigitte Hartley, together with Nick and Paul Burden completed the event successfully together in a K3 whilst former Springbok captain Corné Krige completed his support of local schools when he crossed the line with race organizer Pieter Marais and Krige’s good friend Billy van Zyl.
SUMMARY OF RESULTS – HANSA FISH RIVER CANOE MARATHON
Men Second stage time Overall time
1.Len Jenkins 2:09.51 5:01.41
2.Hank McGregor 2:09.51 5:01.41
3.Grant van der Walt 2:08.12 5:02.12
4.Greg Louw 2:11.38 5:08.07
5.Lance Kime 2:13.08 5:09.40
6.Cam Schoeman 2:13.57 5:10.27
7.Jacques Theron 2:12.48 5:10.52
8.Brandon van der Walt 2:14.33 5:15.11
9.Ant Stott 2:17.15 5:15.19
10.Thulani Mbanjwa 2:13.49 5:16.28
11.Mark Mulder 2:13.15 5:16.41
12.Ryan Louw 2:16.19 5:18.57
13.Pierre-Andre Rabie 2:16.51 5:21.45
14.Stuart McLaren 2:16.55 5:21.50
15.Jakub Adam (Czech Rep) 2:15.43 5:22.18
16.Josh Kippen (Aus) 2:15.46 5:22.23
17.Sibonelo Zondi 2:15.50 5:22.25
18.Alex Roberts 2:16.32 5:23.10
19.Michael Odvarko (Czech Rep) 2:16.21 5:25.42
20.Andrew Birkett 2:13.21 5:26.42
1.Michéle Eray 2:24.13 5:39.58
2.Robyn Kime 2:23.42 5:42.39
3.Abby Adie 2:26.22 5:47.08
4.Jenna Ward 2:31.04 5:58.09
5.Hilary Pitchford 2:30.56 6:01.39
6.Jordan Peek 2:34.37 6:09.06
7.Kerry Segal 2:37.37 6:09.39
8.Kerry Louw 2:37.47 6:11.39
9.Kerry Shuter 2:40.23 6:12.23
10.Brittany Petersen 2:36.43 6:15.52