McGregor to defend marathon world title
20 September 2012
Team captain Hank McGregor will be aiming for a third K1 world title when South Africa contests the ICF Canoe World Marathon Championships on the River Tiber in Rome on the weekend.
He won a gold medal at the World Champs in Singapore last year in emphatic fashion and is the favourite for the senior K1 title this time around. Previously, he was crowned world champion in 2003.
The 34-year-old from Ballito, who is sponsored by Team Best 4 Kayak Centre, which also sponsors a number of other leading South African paddlers, is in the form of his life.
He won a record ninth Berg River Canoe Marathon title in July and last week smashed the dice record at Blue Lagoon in Durban in a clear statement that he is perfectly prepared for the world title decider in the warm Rome weather.
McGregor will have to get the better of a very strong field that includes compatriot Len Jenkins, Spaniard Ivan Alonso, who finished third last year in Singapore, Hungarian star Mäté Petrovics, Aussie Michael Leverett and Portugal's José Ramalho. Spanish marathon icon Manuel Busto Fernandes will not be on the starting line.
"This is a big priority for me," said McGregor. "To win a world title when the best of the best are on the water with you is really special.
"My build-up has been perfect and now it is just a case of delivering on the day," he added. "I am feeling good. I am nervous about what is about to happen, but there is also lots of excitement."
McGregor said the unusual course for the World Championships would play into the hands of the South African paddlers, who are more used to river racing.
'The course is awesome'
"The course is awesome, but it is really tough," said McGregor. "There is following water and the very steep portages are definitely going to be a factor. In training, lots of people have been slipping and falling on the portages."
After training on the Tiber course, McGregor said that the style of kayaks the competitors are currently opting for are particularly well suited to the Rome course. "With the tricky steep portages and current in the river, our choice of boats really suits this course."
The South African contingent is equally excited about the prospects of a podium for the K2 crew of McGregor and team mate Grant van der Walt, himself a former under 23 world champion. The pair has been peerless in the domestic flatwater marathon, river marathon and surfski races in recent years and go into the World Championships very bullish about their chances.
"Grant and I will race our K1 races and take whatever we learn from them into our K2 race on Sunday," said McGregor. "We are very excited about this race."
The other South African men's K2 crew slated for the senior title is the on-song Cape crew of Jasper Mocké and Simon van Gysen.
On Friday, the siblings, Brandon and Grant van der Walt, will both don South African colours in the under 23 men's K1 decider; both have won the title in the past. The former Parktown Boys High scholars are now based in Durban where they train with the elite group spearheaded by McGregor.
Dusi champion Robyn Kime will contest the women's under-23 K1 race.
With it being Kime's first World Marathon Championships, she is under no pressure and has been seeded in the extreme outside lane one for the start. That should suit the Stellenbosch University student nicely as it will allow her to race her own race rather than get drawn into a scrap with the established stars.
On Sunday morning, Kime will team up with Beijing Olympian Michéle Eray for the hotly contested women's K2 race, alongside compatriots Alexa Cole and Eloise van Gysen. Cole has tasted World Championships success before, winning a silver medal in Australia with Donia Kamstra in 2005.
The event is preceded every year by the popular Masters Cup, which features paddlers in the veteran and master age groups.
It started on a bright note for the massive 96-strong South African contingent when Minnie Kretzschmar won a silver medal in the women's 55-59 year age group, with compatriot Carrol Evans not far behind, claiming a bronze medal with a third place finish.
Later, silver medals were won by South African masters Hilda Lapere (women 50-54), Ernest van Riet (men 35-39) and Theo Smit (men 55-59) while Rob Maclean added a bronze in his 60-64 age group.
Lee McGregor, the father of Hank McGregor, sensationally won a bronze medal in the men's 50-54 age group, despite racing two age groups younger than his actual age.
C1 paddler Radoslaw Olszewsk won his men's 50-54 class to bring the medal tally for team South Africa to eight on the first day of competition.
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