Just over a week remains until the Ozzie Gladwin presented by Parklane Superspar, South Africa’s leading one-day canoe race. It covers 26 kilometres from Albert Falls Dam to Thornvale Farm and is a can’t-miss build-up event to the FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon.
Some of the leading contenders for the 2016 Dusi title will be in action, including, for the first time this river season, Andy Birkett and Lance Kime.
Five-time Dusi winner Birkett said the Ozzie Gladwin would help the pair find the answers to some questions about their partnership. “I am looking forward to paddling with Lance,” he said. “There is a bit of pressure, I guess. As soon as we jump into the boat together, there is going to be a lot to sort out – planning, working out who is going to sit where, just ironing out all the small things in our partnership until we can get it to really click. It is going to be awesome and it is going to be fun.”
The Euro Steel-sponsored pair of Birkett and Kime will face stiff competition from fellow Euro Steel crew Sbonelo Khwela and Banetse Nkhoesa, the winners of last weekend’s Umpetha Challenge, and from K1 world champion Hank McGregor, who has teamed up with two-time Dusi winner Jason Graham for the race.
McGregor has won the last three Ozzie Gladwin K2 races, with a different partner on each occasion – Len Jenkins in 2009, Grant van der Walt in 2011 and Jasper Mocke in 2013 – while Graham sports an Ozzie K1 title to his name from way back in 2004.
“I saw Hank paddling with Jason [on Thursday] and they look like they are going really well in the boat, so I think Hank and Jason will definitely be one of the strongest boats on the water. We will all have to try and limit the damage that Sbonelo and Banetse do on the run,” Birkett said.
The course comprises a four kilometre paddle on the Albert Falls Dam, followed by a one kilometre portage and then 21 kilometres along a very scenic river section. “It helps paddlers work towards a Dusi distance,” Brett Austen Smith, the General Manager of Natal Canoe Club, which hosts the race, said. “The portage is not long, but if you haven’t done any running training it can hurt you quite a bit. It’s quite a fast portage.”
The 21 kilometres of river racing is fantastic, Birkett reckoned. “It’s an awesome section and a lot of fun. The last two kilometres of the race, I really enjoy. There are a few technical rapids where you have to be sharp, otherwise you can make mistakes.”
“There are always some ding-dong battles and some good racing. I have never had an easy Ozzie Gladwin, so I am looking forward to it,” he added. “It is going to be a great one.”
The main event will be preceded by a guppy race on the Dam. “It has always been the single biggest guppy race in the country, and a very important part of the event. It’s an opportunity for the guppies to be with world champions and their heroes,” Austen Smith said. “We really put a lot of emphasis on it and we look forward to seeing as many people as possible there.”
Austen Smith also praised Parklane Superspar, which, he said, was a standout supporter of canoeing. “They are really fantastic supporters of canoeing in general. Whenever we need someone to step up to the plate, they are always very willing and generous in their support. Without them, we would never ever be able to run an event like the Ozzie Gladwin on the scale that we do. It is undoubtedly the premier one-day race in the country,” he stated.