Zondi, Birkett pair up for Non-Stop Dusi
1 March 2013
With the dust barely settled on the Unlimited Dusi, the toughest of those competitors have now set their sights on the massively challenging Non-Stop Dusi. Sbonelo Zondi and Andy Birkett, who suffered disappointment in the Dusi, look like the team to beat.
Zondi led after the first two days until a swim on day three scuppered his chances of victory, while three-time defending champion Birkett was undone by mechanical issues and a swim. Zondi went on to finish third and Birkett fourth.
The Unlimited Non Stop Dusi takes place on Friday, 8 March, and covers most of the Dusi course in one day. Last year it was won by Birkett in a single kayak, which made him only the second man ever to beat the K2s in the event's history.
Birkett cagily admitted that the combination was purely for the short term, but many of the country's elite river racers will have a very close eye on the proceedings in this year's Non-Stop Dusi as offers and counter-offers whizz back and forth ahead of the 2014 Dusi, which will be a doubles' year.
"This is purely a Non-Stop combination and there are no strings attached to us paddling together in the future," explained Birkett. "If I were to say that there was no chance of us paddling next year's Dusi together, I would be lying to you though.
"I would say there is definitely a small chance we could do Dusi together, but for now this is just a Non-Stop combination.
Having won the Dusi three years in a row, twice with doubles partner Jason Graham and once single-handedly, Birkett had a disappointing campaign in 2013, finishing fourth overall after rudder troubles and a rare, yet costly, swim at Tombi Rapid on day two left him with too much work to do on the third and final day.
The Non Stop Dusi, however, provides Birkett with the perfect opportunity to right a couple of those wrongs and get back to his winning ways in the uMsundusi and uMngeni River valleys as it does for Zondi, who saw a fairytale victory ripped from his grasp just kilometres from the finish.
"Dusi was quite a big disappointment for me, so I would definitely like to do well in the Non-Stop again this year," Birkett said.
The Dusi places a greater premium on portaging than any other major race and Zondi is a tremendously strong runner. "It will be more a matter of me trying to hang onto the boat on the portages so [Sbonelo] doesn’t leave me behind!" chuckled Birkett.
He said he believed the similar approach he shares to the sport with Zondi will serve the pair well in The Unlimited Dusi. "Paddling with Sbonelo is something I thought about briefly during this year's Dusi, having seen just how strong he was," he admitted.
The Monday after the Dusi, Birkett was focussed on paddling a K1 in the Dusi but, he said, after thinking about it that afternoon, he changed his mind and decided to team up with Zondi.
"He already said to me that he'll be in the back and I'll be in the front so that seems sorted already, but importantly I think we're quite similar guys as well.
"He seems to have a very similar approach to his paddling as I do. He always seems to look to have fun out there, which is hugely importantly to me, and he also never ever gives up!
'Help each other out'
"It is a really long race and there will be times when things aren't always the most pleasant out there, but that's where you've got to look to work together and help each other out and I'm sure we'll be able to do that for each other."
Birkett and Zondi, together with the rest of the 2013 The Unlimited Non Stop Dusi Canoe marathon field, will take to the waters of Camps Drift in Pietermaritzburg at 05:30 on Friday, 8 March, and head for Blue Lagoon in Durban, with the winners expected to arrive between 13:30 and 14:30 that same day.
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