Top paddlers return for Berg River Canoe Marathon

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On Wednesday, a host of stars, including paddlers from KwaZulu-Natal, will tackle the 61st edition of the four-day Berg River Canoe Marathon outside Paarl.

Many illustrious racing champions return to take part in the annual paddling odyssey on the Cape’s West Coast.

Supreme paddler Hank McGregor, from Durban, returns to the starting line aiming for a 12th Berg title and looks to extend his record as the 43-year-old Team Euro Steel world beater remains one of the paddlers who defined his generation .

As a youngster who was first inspired to paddle by watching his father compete in the Berg Marathon, McGregor has won more Berg stages and outright wins than any other paddler in history.

His appetite for the demanding race remains intact as he prepares for another marathon world championship campaign at the end of September.

McGregor finished second to Andy Birkett in a thrilling Berg last year, and with Birkett out as he contests the marathon races at the World Games in the United States, McGregor will start as the favorite to add to his bag of titles from Berg.

READ ALSO | Hamish Lovemore returns for Berg River Canoe Marathon action

He will have to find a clever way to outwit young star Hamish Lovemore, who has cemented his authority on the national marathon scene over the past two years and beaten McGregor in the recent KZN Marathon Championships and SA Marathon Championships.

Lovemore is another former Berg champion returning to the fray, having won the title in 2019 with Tyron Maher in a tag team event.

McGregor’s friend and training partner, Lovemore will be an intriguing ally and opponent for the on-water legend. Graeme Solomon initially returns to Paarl as another former champion, and at 49 has lost little of his racing form or competitive spirit.

With his recent victory on the Berg River at the Western Cape K1 River Champs to boost his confidence, Solomon will bring the best river knowledge of all the fancy elites, many of whom have little training or stumble on the Berg River.

The women’s race looks set to deliver the fascinating contest that has characterized river marathons in South Africa in recent years.

While her husband, Andy, is away campaigning in the United States, Nikki Birkett returns to the race as the defending women’s champion and the clear favourite. With its courage and love for long grinds on a river, the Berg is definitely playing to its strengths.

She will line up in the row of female seeds with classy Jenna Nisbet, who also shamelessly uses the Berg as part of her longer-term marathon plans for 2022, Maties dynamo Tracey Oellermann and local powerhouse Melanie van Niekerk. With another grand entrance, the Berg’s unique challenge remains intact.

The race should start on a medium level Berg River, which has channeled well in recent years, with clear weather forecasts for the first days of the race. To make the marathon’s appeal more accessible, organizers have added a Berg120 option to the event.

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