Hank McGregor
Hank McGregor

The SA team for the ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships in Vila de Prado, Portugal, is looking forward to getting among the medals during the four days of competition starting on Thursday.

Having hosted the event in 2017 at Camps Drift, Pietermaritzburg, many of that team will be returning in 2018 hoping to better their individual and collective performances after they finished second on the medals table behind pre-event favourites Hungary.

The team will be in unknown territory for one of the races, with 10-time world champion Hank McGregor not contesting the senior men’s K1 race.

That mantle has been shifted to McGregor’s K2 partner Andy Birkett, who finished behind the star at Camps Drift to claim the silver medal, and his former K2 partner and three-time K2 medallist Jasper Mocké, who is no stranger to K1 racing.

In the men’s K2 race, the pairing of Birkett and McGregor will be a firm favourite. Joining them is the Capetonian crew of Stu Maclaren and Kenny Rice.

Maclaren and Rice pushed McGregor and Birkett to the line at the national championships in June and will be hoping to do the same on Sunday.

The senior women’s K1 charge will be led by recent Sprint World Championships bronze medallist Bridgitte Hartley and former Under-23 bronze medallist Jenna Ward. Hartley will be hoping to better her 2017 performance, where she finished 12th overall.

Hartley has been in good form and her 1,000m sprint bronze medal two weeks ago will give her confidence going into the showdown.

With her tenacious attitude, Ward has always been a paddler to watch and if she can rediscover the form of Oklahoma 2016 then she could be in contention at the end.

In the women’s K2 race Hartley and Melissa van Rooyen will race together while surfski ace Hayley Nixon will be back again in a K2 in 2018 with young Christie Mackenzie. Doing battle in the Under-23 age group will be 2017 silver medallist Nick Notten and Louis Hattingh in the men’s K1 race. In the Under-23 women’s K1 race, it will be Sabina Lawrie and Christie Mackenzie.

Both Lawrie and Mackenzie have just graduated from the junior ranks so this year’s race provides an opportunity for them to step up to a higher level. Mackenzie won a junior bronze in Pietermaritzburg 12 months ago and Lawrie is the junior ocean racing world champion.

Hattingh has been working his way back from a hand injury and he too has had medal success, albeit as a junior in a K2. However, with Notten, the pair should be right in the mix at the end of the showdown.Fighting it out in the junior K1 boys and girls will be Uli Hart and David Evans and Caitlin Mackenzie and Amy Peckett.

Mackenzie will be hoping that this year’s race is a lot better and with Epworth school mate Peckett, they will be in search of another junior girls’ medal.

Hart will be the other junior returning and he will go into the race with a lot of confidence following his sixth-place finish in 2017.