The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t stopping South Africa’s coveted Dusi Canoe Marathon from its 70th edition, as of the MyLife Dusi Canoe Marathon sets off from Camps Drift on Thursday morning from Pietermaritzburg to Durban, commemorating the 1951 inaugural Dusi race won by Dr. Ian Player.
With the entry list surpassing last year’s K2 field, despite the challenges of COVID, organizers have all the safety protocols place to hold the multi-day race, with paddlers vying for $10,000 in prize money. The three-day event ends on Saturday.
From a racing perspective the men’s seeded A batch is loaded with paddlers who have dominated this race for past fifteen years, led by Euro Steel’s Andy Birkett, who remains the man to beat as he chases down a potential eleventh Dusi title.
Birkett has another milestone on the horizon should he win this year’s race. If the 31-year-old is the first boat to Blue Lagoon on Saturday then he will hold the record for the most consecutive Dusi wins with eight in a row; beating the record he currently holds with Dusi King Graeme Pope-Ellis.
Once again there will be a large group of paddlers looking to dethrone Birkett including perennial podium finisher Thulani Mbanjwa. Mbanjwa’s form has been rock solid throughout the Dusi seeding races and the Team MyLife veteran once again will be in a position to push for a top three spot at this year’s race.
Another former winner, but someone who has been conspicuously quiet throughout the pre-Dusi races, Sbonelo Khwela cannot be discounted from potentially winning the Dusi K1 title either. The Euro Steel/Red Bull star has not missed the podium since 2012.
2020 K2 winner Khumbulani Nzimande is another paddler that will be hoping to occupy the podium, undaunted by the fact that he will be coming up against paddlers who are far more experienced than he is. This year’s race will also welcome back paddling stalwart in Hank McGregor, a three-time Dusi champion. The veteran is fighting fit and has featured prominently in the build-up to this year’s race and will be a serious contender at the age of 43.
Amongst the younger generation is Dave Evans, an Under 23 ace who will be hoping to break onto the podium for the first time.
Looking at the women’s race and this year sees the return of the 2019 top five as well as Jordan Peek and Bridgitte Hartley. This adds added spice to the women’s showdown with defending champion and Euro Steel/Varsity College representative Christie Mackenzie on the start line along with 2019’s runner up Tamika Gandar.
Amy Peckett will also be racing along with Jenna Ward – who has recovered from an ankle injury to take her place on the start line.
Jordan Peek has also produced some significant results during the pre-Dusi qualifying, giving her a shot at the women’s title.
This year’s race will have further significance for Dusi stalwart Lyle Wheeler who will complete his fiftieth consecutive Dusi Canoe Marathon when he gets to Blue Lagoon on Saturday. This year’s race will be a tenth for 80-year-old Hugh Raw who will become the oldest finisher at the Dusi and will complete the race in a K1.
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