Paarl – With the men’s race for the 2016 Berg River Canoe Marathon crown being billed as one of the most competitive in the modern era, the women’s race received a timely boost when 2013 champion Jenna Ward lodged an eleventh hour entry to up the ante amongst the classy women’s field for the race starting on Wednesday, 13 July.
Despite having Western Cape local and defending champion Bianca Beavitt in the ladies field the rest of the line-up might lack the Berg credentials of Beavitt and Ward, but boast some of the best female paddling talent in the country.
Ward’s decision to take part in the race came at the persuasion of its greatest champion.
“I was asked a while ago and said no ways, there was no chance I was going to do it!” the marathon paddling ace mentioned.
“When we were in Mauritius Hank (McGregor) was constantly trying to persuade me to do it, saying how good it was for Marathon Worlds preparation so I took that into consideration along with the fact that there are going to be a lot of MAC Squad paddlers down there.
“I eventually crumbled and entered but I am now really looking forward to it as it will be great for my Worlds preparations.”
Ward’s MAC Squad team mates Kyeta Purchase and Nikki Russell will be contesting their first Berg River Canoe Marathon’s this week with a chance to make their debuts count with a spot on the women’s podium.
“The ladies race is going to be really tough with Bianca, Kyeta and Nikki all going really well but that isn’t my aim for this race, I want to cover the miles and build a really good base – the result won’t be my focus.
“Unfortunately I won’t be there for the time trial as I couldn’t get a flight but I will be on the start line on Wednesday morning!” an excited Ward added.
110 of the 117 entries are in the men’s race with some of the top names in marathon racing worldwide setting off from Paarl on Wednesday as ten-time defending champion Hank McGregor once again wears the favourites tag with a strong field hoping to displace him.
Amongst the chasing pack hunting down the Euro Steel/Kayak Centre star will be current K2 World Marathon champion Adrian Boros from Hungary, seasoned Berg podium finisher Graeme Solomon and a smattering of international and local stars.
The plethora of paddlers that make up the rest of the men’s field includes a further three internationals with two Australians in the form of Australian marathon champion Josh Kippin and 2015 Berg top ten finisher Brendan Rice as well as Petr Petr Mojžíšek from Czech Republic.
Add to that scenario the likes of veteran Louw van Riet, Pink Lady Drakenstein winner Simon van Gysen, Berg debutant Stuart Maclaren, Edgar Boehm Junior, Paul Marais and Gavin White, amongst others, and the spots in the top ten are going to be highly sought after.
64 year-old Lee McGregor is another paddler that will be pushing for a spot in that competitive top ten, this coming after he finished eighth overall in 2014 and the Great Grand Master is hoping to defy the odds once again in 2016.
2016 will see a resurgence in the involvement of young paddlers at the Berg with 24 Under 23 paddlers taking on the gruelling 240km journey with local favourite Luke Stowman’s return signals his intention to claim the Under 23 title.
Stowman’s charge will be closely watched by a handful of debutants with the Houston brothers Andrew and Alan stating their intentions to take part late in the build-up as well as University of Cape Town paddler Tyron Maher trying to break into that top three.
Martin Dreyer’s Computershare Change a Life team will be well represented in 2016 with the bulk of the team contesting the Under 23 race as Mmeli and Mthobisi Cele, Siyanda and Jabulani Gwamanda, Sboniso Shozi, Khumbelani Nzimande and Nkosikhona Mabaso are all set to start in Paarl.
Following a horrific stabbing incident that not only threatened to derail his FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon preparations but almost ended his career Banetse Nkhoesa, who withdrew from the 2015 Berg, will be back to get his name amongst the list of finishers in 2016.
The junior boys race will see four Under 18’s contest for the title with KwaZulu-Natal youngsters Emmanuel Zalumous and Hamish Lovemore leading the charge while Euro Steel’s Kyeta Purchase is the only Under 18 girl taking part.
Jenna Ward will lead the charge in the Under 23 women’s race despite her overall title chances with Elana Grunder setting off as the only other under 23 woman in the field.
River conditions looks set to be far more favourable than the very low conditions that plagued the raced in 2015, with winter rains raising the groundwater levels and ensuring that most of the major tributaries that flow into the Berg River are flowing well.
The 2016 Berg River Canoe Marathon starts in Paarl on 13 July and ends at Velddrif on 16 July. More information can be found at www.berg.org.za