Hank McGregor took an important step forward in his bid to retain his World Marathon Championship title after a weekend of total domination at the South African National Marathon Championships, which served as the trial for the team to contest the World Championships in Rome later in the year.
The Team Best 4 Kayak Centre skipper won the K1 national crown for a sixth time at a cold and blustery Mofam Dam outside Elgin on Saturday. He then teamed up with injured teammate Grant van der Walt to complete the double by winning the K2 title on Sunday.
'A hard race'
"The K1 race went just as I wanted it to go," said McGregor. "I was able to break away after the last portage and won it clear of Len Jenkins in second. It was a hard race though, as the challenge from the Cape guys like the Mocké brothers, Graeme Solomon and Simon van Gysen was strong throughout the race."
With the K1 title in the bag, McGregor's teammate and training partner Grant van der Walt still didn't have any assurances from the national selectors about how they would view his back injury.
While McGregor and his team mates retreated from the miserable weather to watch the rugby test between South Africa and England on Saturday afternoon, Van der Walt headed out onto the water to test his painful back on the portages.
'I left it entirely up to him'
"I left it entirely up to him," said McGregor. "I understood the predicament he was in and did not put him under any pressure, and even said I was happy not to race if he felt he couldn't do it."
At the eleventh hour, Van der Walt insisted that they race, and the duo, despite very little time in the boat together, started cautiously against the small but strong field.
"We jogged all the portages, and throughout the race I kept asking him if he was alright," said McGregor. "I didn't get an answer, which I took as he was battling. We pushed on and got into the last portage clean, but with a big bunch."
McGregor and Van der Walt were able to power away over the final eight minutes of the final lap to capture gold and the first place in the national team from Simon van Gysen and Jasper Mocké.
Alexa Cole mirrored McGregor's achievements in the women's competition, winning the singles easily before adding the K2 title with Eloise van Gysen the following day.
Robyn Kime took the honours in the tough women's under-23 class, showing a timeous return to form ahead of the winter Cape racing season.
- Hank McGregor 2:26:44.64
- Len Jenkins 2:26:51.58
- Simon van Gysen 2:26:53.60
- Brandon van der Walt 2:06:13.99
- Ivan Kruger 2:08:18.35
- Sean Rice 2:14:19.92
- Alexa Cole 2:19:33.21
- Kirsten Gelderblom 2:25:37.38
- Nikki Russell 2:34:11.79
Robyn Kime 1:59:55.48
Esti van Tonder 1:59:57.61
Jenna Ward 2:00:23.10
- Hank McGregor/Grant van der Walt 2:17:31.31
- Simon van Gysen/Jasper Mocké 2:17:32.90
- Lance King/Heinrich Schloms 2:17:33.63
- Alexa Cole/Eloise van Gysen 2:13:26.07
- Kirsten Penderis/Robyn Kime 2:15:54.41
- Brittany Petersen/Kim Van Gysen 2:16:03.33
- Bianca Beavitt/Melanie van Niekerk 1:57:11.14
- Marisa Pretorius/Esti van Tonder 2:00:57.81
- Sean Rice/Brandon van der Walt 1:57:40.89
- Ivan Kruger/Joseph Williams 2:01:32.48
- Luke Stowman/Daniel Louis Buys 2:10:34.77