Two athletes that posted impressive victories in major international paddling events on opposite sides of the world this past weekend have confirmed that they will combine to challenge for the Hansa Powerade Fish River Canoe marathon K2 championship on 3 and 4 October.
Johannesburg Schoolboy Grant van der Walt won the silver medal in the Boys K1 race at the world marathon championships in Tyn Nad Vltavou in the Czech Republic, while Hank McGregor powered away to win the US Surf Ski Championships in San Francisco.
McGregor, who is the defending K2 champion after winning the Hansa Powerade Fish title with Len Jenkins in 2006 struck a deal with Van der Walt to race together for the prestigious Fish title earlier in the year.
However their opportunities to train and race together have been severely limited by Van der Walt’s commitment to training for the flatwater marathon worlds.
“We got into a boat together on the weekend of the SA K4 champs, and we also raced the K4s together,” said McGregor. “It won’t take long for us to click and we are both in really good shape, so we are looking forward to the race.”
In last year’s singles championship race – the Hansa Powerade Fish alternates between singles and doubles each year – McGregor finished second behind Len Jenkins and Van der Walt third, becoming the first junior to finish in the top three overall. That result in itself makes the combination of McGregor and Van der Walt intimidating, and will make them odds-on favourites to win the race title in Cradock next weekend.
If that happens then Van Der Walt will become the first junior to win the race overall. The Parktown Boys High School matric pupil travelled to the world champs as the defending champion in the boy’s K1 division, and came away with the silver medal after losing a thriller to British youngster Ed Rutherford.
On the other side of the Atlantic Hank McGregor continued his winning streak with a runaway victory in the US National Surf Ski Championships in San Fransisco, where he led home a South African 1-2-3 with runner up Dawid Mocke and Steve Woods filling the remaining places on the podium.
McGregor has scarcely lost a race in the past twelve months. Since winning the Durban Surf Ski World Cup in emphatic fashion in July, he has gone on to defend his titles in the Isuzu Berg, Tracker Highlands Challenge and Canon Breede River marathons.
In the Tracker race McGregor and Van der Walt were a clear cut above the rest of the elite field that assembled for the SA K1 championship event. McGregor is also on track to repeating his unique feat of winning the national river K1 and K2 titles in the same year as winning the SA single and double ski titles. With three of those titles already behind his name, all that is outstanding is the single ski title decider at the annual Hansa Knysna Sedgefield race in mid November.
The Hansa Powerade Fish this year will decide the Eastern Cape K2 river championships. But as McGregor is quick to point out, the fact that it does not carry a national title does not diminish its status in the slightest.
“The Hansa Powerade Fish is a massive race, even if it doesn’t have SA K2 status,” said McGregor. “The top paddlers all want to win it. You only have to look through the list of guys that have won the race to realise that it is one of the most prestigious titles around.”
The Hansa Powerade Fish River Canoe Marathon will get under way at Grassridge dam on Friday 3 October and finishes in Cradock on Saturday 4 October.