South Africa’s canoeing team grabbed two medals on the first day of the world marathon canoeing championships, with defending junior world champ Grant Van Der Walt winning a silver, and Ant Stott a bronze medal in the senior K1 race, racing in very cold conditions with a steady wind that aggravated the wind chill factor.
Stott raced superbly in the fast-paced men’s K1 race and eventually settled into a three boat breakaway bunch at the front on the fourth lap. with defending wo rld champion Emilio Merchan of Spain and Czech star Jonas Saelens. The key break came at the last portage on lap six, where Stott was dropped by the Spanish and Czech athletes, who then started a two-boat race for the world title, which Merchan took by half a boat length, with Stott finishing fifty metres further back.
It’s the second bronze medal Stott has won at the world marathon championships, following his third behind Hank McGregor’s victory in Spain in 2003.
Van der Walt went into the Boys K1 race as the favourite, having won the world junior title in emphatic fashion last year. However his title defence was hampered by a bad start that saw him languishing in the third bunch, and dangerously out of contact with the leaders at the first portage.
However his persistence paid off and he worked his way through the field and back onto the front bunch going into the penultimate lap.
After four laps of breakneck speed racing Van Der Walt and the British athlete Ed Rutherfoord managed to shake off the determined Hungarians Peter Hamar and Milan Noe, setting up a two boat race for the world title.
The British paddler had a better final portage and went into the final paddle to the finish with a short lead. Van Der Walt backed himself as he kicked at the 250 metre mark trying to make up the ground he lost on the last portage, but the young Briton was up to this challenge and pulled away in the closing stages to win the title by half a boat length.
“I am stoked with the silver medal,” said Van Der Walt afterwards. “After my shocking start I thought there was no way I’d even get onto the front bunch let alone win a medal, so I am really satisfied with second place.”
His younger brother Brandon, racing in his first world championships, finished fourteenth, seven minutes behind his sibling.
In the girls race Cape ace Bianca Beavitt ended eighth after having spent much of the race in a four boat chasing bunch trying to reel in the talented pair of Hungarians at the front.
From being fifth at the last portage, Beavitt was out-sprinted by the others in the group as the other athletes fighting for fifth place all finished within four seconds, with Beavitt left trailing twenty seconds further back.
The K2 races on Sunday will bring the world marathon championships to an end.