The SteelCo Ozzie Gladwin Canoe Marathon this weekend may have offered some surprises for prospective 2019 FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon participants, as Hank McGregor and Tamika Haw claimed victory in the men's and women's races respectively.
Despite Euro Steel's McGregor having won the Dusi in February with Andy Birkett, many didn't expect to see the veteran on the start line in the K1 following his retirement from K1 flat-water marathon racing earlier in the year.
McGregor's last taste of K1 racing came at the Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon in October where he lost out in an exciting tussle with Birkett, however he didn't miss a beat on the Mngeni River to take home the coveted title and the KZN K1 river champs laurels for 2018.
The obvious absentee from the race was McGregor's K2 partner Birkett. The seven-time Dusi winner has recently relocated to East London with his wife Nikki and their newborn son David.
Birkett is still expected to be at Camps Drift in February to defend his K1 title. However, he will be absent from more seeding races than in previous years.
The marathon was interesting, with two old hands, McGregor and Thulani Mbanjwa, fighting it out with the young and up-and-coming Stew Little.
It was a tight tussle right up to the end, just 39 seconds separating the three coming into the finish, with Mbanjwa taking second and Little finishing in third. Little also took home the title of being the first U23 at the event.
Euro Steel's Banetse Nkhoesa, who's been in strong form through the early stages of the Dusi season, finished fourth on Sunday to go with his Umpetha Challenge win in October.
Meanwhile, Euro Steel/Red Bull's Sbonelo Khwela finished in tenth place overall. The former Dusi K2 winner dominated the Dusi podium for a number of years, but is yet to feature in the build-up to the 2019 showdown.
Young U18 paddlers Hamish Mackenzie and David Evans came home in fifth and sixth place respectively and seem to be in good shape going into the final three months before the Dusi.
Mpilo Zondi was the second U23 home and seventh overall. The young Change a Life Academy star will be hoping that he can push hard for a strong result at the FNB Dusi.
In the ladies race, former Dusi K2 podium finisher Tamika Haw paddled to victory over a fairly inexperienced field this weekend.
The ladies' results showed a new generation of paddlers coming through, with the likes of Jenna Ward, Bridgitte Hartley and Christie Mackenzie all absent. Despite Haw having taken a break from competitive paddling, she cantered home to victory and is now working hard towards the challenge at the Dusi in February.
Chasing Haw home in the ladies race was a plethora of U18 stars. Epworth's Tracey Oellermann finished second and then just over a minute later school teammate Caitlin Mackenzie came home in third. Fourth went to another Epworth paddler Cara Waud, and taking home fifth spot and first U16 girl was Nosipho Mthembu.
The next 2019 FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon seeding races are the Supa Quick Fezela Challenge at Albert Falls Dam on Sunday 2 December and the Florida Dusi Klip race in Gauteng on Sunday 2 December.
1 Hank McGregor
2 Thulani Mbanjwa
3 Stewart Little
4 Banetse Nkhoesa
5 Hamish Mackenzie
6 David Evans
7 Mpilo Zondi
8 Siseko Ntondini
9 Owen Gandar
10 Sbonelo Khwela
1 Tamika Haw
2 Tracey Oellermann
3 Caitlin Mackenzie
4 Cara Waud
5 Nosipho Mthembu
Photo: Veteran Hank McGregor showed his class to win the SteelCo Ozzie Gladwin on Sunday against a strong field, by Anthony Grote/Gameplan Media