Magnetic Maritzburg scoops 2017 Canoe Marathon World Champs

Brett Austen-Smith has spearheaded the successful
bid for the 2017 marathon canoeing World Championships.
Photo: Dave Macleod/Gameplan Media

South African canoeing received a major boost with the announcement by the International Canoe Federation (ICF) that the 2017 ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships will be hosted at Camps Drift in Pietermaritzburg.

 The announcement came at the ICF Board of Directors meeting in Lima, Peru on the weekend, and follows a long application process driven by the Natal Canoe Club (NCC) to host the flatwater marathon world title decider at the home of the Dusi Canoe Marathon.

“This is a major boost for canoeing in South Africa,” said Canoeing South Africa president Christo Horn. “Marathon racing is one of our strongest disciplines, and we currently have both the senior men’s K1 world champion and U23 men’s K1 champion in Hank McGregor and Andy Birkett to go with our long history of marathon successes.”

“This will allow our elite athletes to perform in front of their home supporters, and it will be a great opportunity to market and grow the discipline of flatwater marathon racing at a venue more famous for river marathon racing,” added Horn.

The 2017 World Championships will attract a number of major marathon events to Camps Drift, with both the KwaZulu-Natal Champs and South African Champs currently planned for the venue in 2015, a bid for the African Championships in the same year has been made, whilst a repeat of the continental champs in 2016 as well as a leg of the crucial flatwater ICF Marathon World Cup – that will serve as a dress rehearsal for the venue – have already been confirmed.

“This event will bring the world’s canoeing spotlight to Camps Drift and Pietermaritzburg, and it gives us wonderful opportunities to take advantage of at a number of levels,” said NCC General Manager, Brett Austen-Smith.

“Of major importance is our ongoing drive to work on the water quality in Camps Drift in close collaboration with the City of Pietermaritzburg and the uMgungundlovu District Municipality to make sure this is addressed well in time for these major events,” said Austen-Smith. “As we have seen with the recent MTB and cycling events, hosting a world championships brings massive exposure and financial benefit to the region, and we are certain that this event will be no different.”

“This is a great opportunity to market South African canoeing and some of our major events to an international audience,” Austen-Smith added.

The 2017 World Championships will be preceded by the Masters Cup events for veteran and masters paddlers, which is expected to attract significant support from the local paddlers.

“Our veteran and masters age group paddling is extremely strong, and because there is no limit to the entry for these events, we expect a huge turnout of local paddlers eager to be part of this event in their own backyard.” said Austen-Smith. “We have four years to prepare for this event, and also to get our talent identification process geared up so that we can really mount a considerable challenge in every age group and category.”

“We have numerous athletes emerging from our development programme that will be well placed to perform well, and there will be no shortage of motivation to deliver results in front of their supporters and families,” said Horn.

The news received the wholehearted support from three times and current Flatwater Marathon World Champion Hank McGregor, who saw it as a reward for the country’s passion for marathon paddling.

“It’s fantastic news!” he said. “The ICF has clearly seen South Africa as a country that is serious about marathons and this is due to all the results, right from our junior boys and girls to our masters, over the years.”

“I would love to be part of it in some way,” McGregor said. “I am getting a bit long in the tooth so I don’t know if I will be racing the seniors, but I really want to be there in some form or other.”

The event will now be sent to SASCOC for ratification before the planning and roll-out strategy continues.

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