A fourth consecutive victory at the Umpetha Challenge over the weekend has given Sbonelo Khwela good confidence heading into the 2016 Ozzie Gladwin Canoe Marathon presented by Parklane Superspar on Sunday 27 November.
The Euro Steel/Red Bull athlete from Shongweni overcame a stellar early-season field on the opening 14km of the uMsundusi River and the testing 3.5km portage from Braai Place take-out to Bishopstowe Farmers’ Hall to kick-start his 2017 FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon preparations positively, setting the tone for the upcoming Ozzie Gladwin test on the upper uMngeni River.
“Umpetha was a very good race for me this weekend because everything went according to plan and it was nice to get my fourth win,” says Khwela.
“It also gave me a confidence boost, which I needed as we start to prepare for next year’s Dusi.
“It was nice to win Umpetha ahead of Ozzie Gladwin but Ozzie is also a very different race on a different river, so we’ll just have to see what happens on the day,” he adds.
The ongoing drought conditions continue to see dam and river levels remain low the province over.
While Durban and surrounds have enjoyed good rains in recent weeks, little rainfall has been recorded in the catchment areas, leaving Khwela expecting to race on a trickily low water level at this year’s Ozzie Gladwin.
“We’ve had a little bit of rain but unless we have some big storms soon, I think it will be another low KZN river marathon season.
“If it is low at Ozzie Gladwin then it will suit the paddlers more than us runners because we will be on the water that much longer and it will be more technical than normal.”
While the Ozzie Gladwin takes place on a stretch of river not part of the FNB Dusi route, Khwela appreciates the piece of his Dusi preparation puzzle the event represents.
“Day two of Dusi, just before and on Inanda Dam, is something you need to be prepared for, especially if you are on your own.
“So, with all its flat water sections, Ozzie Gladwin is very good preparation for that and it is another good chance to practise running with a boat in race conditions too.”
Despite being a regular at the Albert Falls Dam to Thornvale Farm contest, Khwela has never won the title at the event known as one of the country’s premier one day races, something he’d be delighted about if he could rectify in 2016.
“I’ve always wanted to win the Ozzie Gladwin but I’ve never come right there; I’ve finished second a couple of times, but never first.
“I’ll try my best to win this year but we’ll just have to see how I go on the day and who else will be there racing too.”
The 2016 Ozzie Gladwin Canoe Marathon takes place from Albert Falls Dam to Thornvale Farm on Sunday 27 November.