BIG 5 Sports Challenge re-defines Knysna Oyster Festival

The annual Pick n Pay Knysna Oyster Festival is synonymous with getting out into the great outdoors. Every year thousands of runners, cyclists, swimmers, paddlers and mountain bikers from around South Africa (and the world) travel to this scenic coastal village to experience ‘the best ten days of their winter’.

Photo: Jacques Marais

Stuart Marais (92) blasts out of the blocks. Photo Jacques Marais/SONY

Sport, cuisine, lifestyle and entertainment form part and parcel of what has by now become a seminal event here on the Garden Route. And at the sporting heart of the ‘Oyster Fest’, you will find a range of key events making up the adrenaline-charged BIG 5 Sport Challenge, presented by Sport 24.

A number of disciplines are included to ensure a fair and level playing field, with everything from mountain biking, road cycling, open-water swimming and ocean paddling, to trail and road running drawing in the crowds. This year, a BIG 5 Lite Category allowed competitors to settle for a reduced distance challenge for the very first time.

First, multi-sporters faced off against each other in the Momentum Weekend Argus Rotary Knysna Cycle Tour MTB Event. Options of a 50km or 80km route differentiated between the Regular and Lite #BIG5 options along testing routes winding through the indigenous Knysna forests.

With mountain biking still fresh in their legs, competitors lined up on the following morning to pedal either a 50km or 100km route on their road bikes. The Momentum Weekend Argus Rotary Knysna Cycle Tour rates as one of the original festival events, and once again tested participants as they cranked a scenic route past Sedgefield and Karatara.

Competitors could play to their individual strengths, or opt for a race where they strategically had a better chance of scoring points. Big-Fivers not keen on the tarmac pedal could instead opt for either the Knysna Dragons Lagoon Mile Swim (1,6km in open water) or otherwise take part in the Knysna Lagoon Challenge, a 22km paddle race.

Photo: Jacques Marais

Carla and Stuart looking good in yellow. Photo Jacques Marais/SONY

A day of rest followed, before competitors laced up their trail shoes to head into the glorious surrounds of Featherbed Nature Reserve. The Salomon Featherbed Trail Run, presented by GU, allows runners to explore these trails once a year, with 11km and 15km routes up from the western Heads and with breath-taking views overlooking the pristine Knysna estuary.

By this stage, it had become clear that the 2013 victors – Stuart Marais and Carla van Huyssteen, were once again dominating the series of events. Van Huyssteen had led the field since Day One, while Marais had to be content with only sharing his Yellow Jersey with Leon Erasmus after the initial two pedal-powered races.

Big wins at Featherbed meant that both these consummate athletes toed the starting line at the Totalsports XTERRA presented by REHIDRAT Sport in pretty high spirits. Flawless racing during this multi-sport spectacle saw them with one final hurdle to overcome, before once again claiming the two top spots on the BIG 5 Sports Challenge podium.

The Saturday of the final event dawned cool and with a slight drizzle, making for perfect conditions in which to take on the Momentum Cape Times Knysna Forest Marathon. Kent Horner, a Top Three contender, strategically opted for the full 42km distance, while the majority of the rest of the Big 5 field decided to run the half-marathon distance.

Both Stuart Marais (4,730 points) and Carla van Huyssteen (4,722 points) thus managed to maintain their top-of-field placing along a hard and fast course to claim well-deserved wins. Andrew Houston (4,331 points) and Piet Jacobs (4,269 points) took the remaining Male podium spots, while Esther Lategan (4,368 points) and Tamika Haw (4,347 points) finished well in the Women’s field.

With Yellow Jersey ceremonies after every race, custom Buffs given to all participants, plus technical race shirts and medals, congratulations goes to World Sport, Fine Places PR, Magnetic South and the Pick n Pay Knysna Oyster Festival committee for once again presenting a world-class event. They have proven there is no better way than this to showcase the great outdoors for which Knysna is rightfully so famous for.


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