Veterans Birkett and Hartley open with wins at Marathon Champs

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Day one of the South African Canoe Marathon Championships at Hazelmere Dam left former world champion Andy Birkett and Bridgitte Hartley with short course victories as junior paddlers stole center stage in the program of Youth Day races.

K1 Under-23 action kicked off the championship proceedings and it was the favorites who prevailed, but it was a much more one-sided encounter in the men’s race than in the women’s showdown.

2021 champion Hamish Lovemore managed to take a lead and never gave up in what was a sublime display of running to win by nearly 500 yards Western Cape’s Uli Hart in second and Eastern Cape’s Matthew Fenn in third.

“There was a pretty big group for the first two laps, then the pace picked up a bit before the first carry and we ran hard which meant it was just Uli (Hart) and me after this porting,” Euro Steel’s Lovemore said.

“I pushed the pace to test it and felt like I had some extra gear so on the second carry I was hard again and managed to get away which wasn’t what I had planned but I’m more than happy to have the job Done.”

The women’s race was not so easy for pre-race favorite Christie Mackenzie. The two-time World Championship bronze medalist was under pressure throughout by Jade Wilson and Kira Bester.

It ended in a final sprint where Mackenzie just had a little too much for Wilson who settled for second place just ahead of Bester in third.

“Kira (Bester) did some intervals in the first two rounds which made things a little stressful for Jade (Wilson) and me,” said winner Mackenzie.

“The wind started picking up which made it more difficult, but otherwise I can’t complain about my race.”

The junior boys race saw K2 partners Matthew Coetzer and Joshua Simpkins battle it out for gold and it was Coetzer who managed to edge Simpkins in the final sprint for the line while Josh Smith came in third.

It was an impressive display from Saskia Hockly in the junior girls race as she raced her way to victory in nearly two minutes ahead of second place Tannah Smith while young under-16 paddler Holly Smith finished third.

The day ended with the men’s and women’s senior short course races and the men’s race was full of drama as Under 23 paddler Callam Davis was in on the action before a ‘swim’ ended to his chances of victory.

Birkett showed his class taking first place as Hank McGregor pushed Uli Hart for second as the Under-23 star finished third.

The women’s title went to Hartley just ahead of Jenna Nisbet in second while third went to Nikki Birkett.

The second day on Friday includes the K2 and K1 junior races for the masters age groups and the main K1 men’s and women’s marathon races.

Photo of Hamish Lovemore by Graham Daniel/Euro Steel

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