In what has been described as the toughest FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon since Inanda Dam was created, two of the Elite Athlete Development Programme’s top stars Andy Birkett and Sbonelo Khwela finished first and second in the 2017 edition of the race recently, streaks ahead of the chasing paddlers.
The pundits predicted that Birkett and Khwela were going to fight it out for the prestigious Dusi K1 title and with six wins to his name going into the 2017 race to bet against Birkett making it three wins in a row would have been brave.
Birkett’s lead going into the infamous final stage from Inanda Dam to Durban was significant enough that he was in a position where he could sit back and show caution as opposed to Khwela who had to throw caution to the wind if he was to catch Birkett.
“I honestly think if I tried to maintain the same pace I did on Day Three out of season I wouldn’t even finish the stage,” a reflective Birkett mentioned.
“Although I had quite a big lead I felt that I was over-analysing the stage, worried that if I went too hard I might blow and you can hit a spectacular low on such a difficult stage.”
With the mercury touching the 40 degree mark during the stage, Birkett knew that it was going to be a battle and with little to no water in the river he was in unchartered territory staring down the barrel of 24km’s of the 36km stage worth of running to Blue Lagoon.
“I always look forward to getting back into the water after the Burma Road portage and splashing my face with the cold water, but there was none of that this year!
“I got to the river on the otherside of the portage and realized that I still had 2km of running before I could get into the water!”
As the drought continued to tighten its grip on KwaZulu-Natal in the build-up to the Dusi, Birkett was aware that there was a chance that there would not be a water release from Inanda Dam for day three.
Having been so invested in preparing for the race Birkett was in a position where he was ready for all conditions. He could not necessarily change his training regime but he was strong and ready for a variety of outcomes come Dusi.
“We have a great opportunity to be as prepared as possible with the testing that we receive from the EADP,” he stressed.
“These tests are a great way for us to gauge where we are in preparation for big events like the Dusi.
“With me being based in Pietermaritzburg I use the satellite program that is based at the Natal Canoe Club which is a massive help for me.”
For Sbonelo Khwela having access to the gym at the Prime Human Performance Institute is an advantage that he feels makes a huge difference to his preparation for events like the FNB Dusi.
“The EADP and Prime play a big role in getting me ready for the Dusi,” Khwela mentioned.
“Having doctors like Dr. Kevin Subban there to help me when I am not feeling well just means that my recovery time is shorter and with their assistance in my meal planning and nutrition, it makes a huge difference.”
The EADP were also represented on the women’s podium as Olympic bronze medallist Bridgitte Hartley completed her first K1 FNB Dusi and finished third in the women’s race.
Hartley’s three days were characterized by her determination to succeed. The Euro Steel star’s opening day of the race was one to forget however she finished the second stage in second place in the ladies race.
The difficulties of the final day took their toll on Hartley who was out on her feet but showed true determination to finish the stage in third place overall.