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Birkett aims for nine out of 10 Dusi titles

Dusi Canoe Marathon 2019

Dusi Canoe Marathon 2019

One of the modern-day greats of the Dusi Canoe Marathon, Andy Birkett will have the opportunity to extend his record to nine wins out of the last 10 editions when he takes on the upcoming event from February 14-16, 2019.

Birkett’s domination of the Dusi started when he won his first title as a schoolboy in 2010. From there he has only missed out on one title and that was 2013 when Lance Kime took the title in an enthralling race, decided by Birkett taking a swim at Thombi rapid on the second day while he was leading the race.

Over the 10 years, Birkett has won every edition of the K2 category, twice with Jason Graham and then once with Sbonelo Khwela, Lance Kime and most recently Hank McGregor.

In the mood

Having completed 14 Dusi’s out of the past 15, and recently relocating to East London with his wife Nikki and their new-born son David, Birkett is starting to get himself in the mood for another title shot.

“I am starting to get excited,” the Euro Steel star said ominously.

“I always try to make sure I keep my training fresh and exciting in the build-up to the race.

“With the move down to the Eastern Cape we are on the ocean, so if I want to mix it up and go for a surfski paddle I can which makes training more exciting.”

Gold medal

Birkett’s 2018 has been one to remember with a Marathon World Championship gold medal in both the K1 and K2 to savour as well as the SA K1 River Marathon title at the Hansa Fish, along with the FNB Dusi and N3TC Drak Challenge crowns to his name.

Preparing for the 2019 edition of the FNB Dusi will be slightly different for Birkett as he will be far from the Valley of a Thousand Hills, however he doesn’t see this as an issue.

“Last year I think I only tripped in the Valley once before the race so I will probably do something very similar this year.

“I’ll be coming up for the Drak Challenge and so I’ll use that time to cram in some tripping and a seeding race.”

Drak Descent promises a stern challenge

Birkett’s career has never been defined by the pursuit of records; however his competitive nature will be put to the test in February.

“There are some strong paddlers in KZN and don’t you worry I keep an eye out on them from down here,” he laughed.

“I’ve got my spies and I see the results every weekend, I know who to look out for!”

Euro Steel’s Thulani Mbanjwa has high hopes for the 2019 Dusi. Picture: Anthony Grote/Gameplan Media

The 35-year-old veteran Thulani Mbanjwa, meanwhile, won his only Dusi title in a K2 with Martin Dreyer in 2008 but has been a perennial top five finisher. In the three previous K1 editions of the event he has a fifth, a fourth and most recently a third place finish overall.

Mbanjwa believes he has what it takes to finish in the upper tier of results again in 2019.

“I am ready to fight for it,” a determined Mbanjwa said. “As I get older I know that I have to push myself even harder to keep up with the younger guys but I have always said you cannot buy experience.

“You have to be clever about where you put your nose when you paddle the Dusi. It doesn’t matter how quick you are on the flat water if you haven’t done your preparation on the river.”

Man to watch

Mbanjwa has watched mate Andy Birkett win the previous two K1 races and believes he will be the man to watch again in 2019, however understands that there will be a number of other paddlers challenging for the title.

“Even though Sbonelo (Khwela) hasn’t featured so far he is going to peak at the Dusi and is training really hard, so you can never count him out.

“Banetse (Nkhoesa) and Stew Little are also going really well and there are a few Change a Life paddlers that are looking strong as well.

“It is going to be a really good race again. I am looking forward to the challenge!” Mbanjwa said.

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