IN what were both exciting finishes, Andy Birkett and Bridgitte Hartley bagged their maiden K1 Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon titles, and with it the South African K1 River Marathon Championship crowns, at the Cradock Sports Grounds on Saturday.
Both races were far from sewn up with Hartley going into the second day with a two and a half minute lead while Birkett had to overturn a one second deficit over the 36km that make up the second stage of the Hansa Fish.
Birkett and team mate Hank McGregor went toe-to-toe throughout the entire 84km and there was a feeling that the race was going to come down to an end sprint again, like it did two years ago. This time it was Birkett who ended on the right side of the result.
“I am super stoked for sure but it shows that there is very little between myself and Hank,” Birkett said. “He probably came past me three times in the last two kilometres and I did the same. Luckily for me that when I went past him it was closer to the finish line. It has been a long season for me but it has been great.”
Hartley’s first major river triumph has come at the end of a strong season for the three-time Olympian and to have a Fish title to her name is the realisation of a career-long dream
“I can finally tick this off the bucket list,” an elated Hartley said. “I think that I have wanted to win this race ever since I put my foot in a canoe. It’s just incredible to be able to come away with a win – especially in a single.”
Mount Edgecombe’s Jenna Ward finished second on the day.
“To have a race where the top five girls all finish within a few minutes of each other is incredible and is great for our sport. Luckily for me I was able to hold them off and to get my first second place finish at the Fish makes me happy.”
Varsity College’s Stewart Little and Christie Mackenzie (Durban North) won the U23 men’s and women’s titles.