Pietermaritzburg – The build-up to the 2015 Dusi canoe marathon gets under way on 19 October, with the aptly renamed Umpetha Challenge, which uses the iSiZulu word for “champion” to denote its status as the first Dusi seeding race that usually attracts every elite paddler with aspirations of Dusi glory.
The race, which since its inception has been wholly managed and run by the Development Team from Natal Canoe Club has become hugely popular and well run, and was last year named the One Day Race of the Year at the KZN Canoe Union Awards.
The name “Umpetha Challenge” was chosen by the thriving development squad under the chairmanship of Dusi veteran Thuthu Manyathi that has turned the relatively new race on the calendar into a well established success story.
“This is a race that tests the early season fitness, and running in particular, of all the paddlers hoping to be a Dusi champion in February,” said Manyathi.
“We were very proud to be awarded Race of the Year earlier this year, so the name Umpetha means it is a champion race in many different senses,” he added.
Recent winners of the race include Len Jenkins, and Andy Birkett and his partner Sbonelo Khwela, at the start of their superb campaign to win last season’s Dusi K2 crown.
Khwela, widely recognised as one of the fastest runners with a kayak on his shoulders had to admit after last year’s victory that he “was broken after the run up to Bishopstowe Hall.”
Backed by the KZN Department of Sport and Recreation, the event was designed to affords the NCC Development Squad a key opportunity to manage an entire top level Dusi race, from planning and budgeting to on-the-day execution of the plethora of duties expected from a heavily supported Dusi qualifier and seeding race.
The race covers the first sixteen kilometres of the Dusi Canoe Marathon course, from Camps Drift in Pietermaritzburg to the Bishopstowe Farmers Hall at the top of the first long portage through the Pine Trees at Campbell’s Farm.
It will also challenge the paddlers with the usual obstacles on the river before the Pine Tree portage take-out, including the Ernie Pearce Weir, Commercial Road weir, Musson’s Weir, Highway Rapid, Low Level Bridge and Taxi Rapid, before the energy sapping run up the Pines Portage before doubling back to the finish at the Bishopstowe Farmers Hall.
This testing portage section is sure to be very demanding for the elite athletes, as few of them would have started serious portage training, and some of them will be on a rest phase in their training after the World Marathon Championships in the USA three weeks before the Umpetha Challenge.
“It’s a bold rebrand of what has become a very successful race in a short space of time,” said NCC and Dusi GM Brett Austen Smith.
“The club is proud of the enthusiastic and proficient way that the Development Team has taken ownership of the race, learnt the skills needed to run a tricky Dusi qualifier, and then made it their own.”
“The programme is producing more than paddlers,” said Manyathi. “It is producing people who can grow the sport. We have Sam Phungula, who has been doing a lot of development work. Development is expanding unbelievably. You can see the children every day, everyone wants to paddle at the moment.”
Manyathi praised the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Sport and Recreation, saying they had played an integral role in the success of the Development Programme. “To have the Department of Sports and Recreation on our side has helped a lot because we can’t do without equipment. We now have world class equipment,” he explained.
“We don’t have excuses not to perform. Because of them, life is easier for everyone. Even coming to the gym at NCC, you know you have equipment that will serve you well. You know you have your own boat and paddle, shoes and splash-cover, we’ve got everything.”
The race will benefit from a good water release from Henley dam for the event, providing conditions very similar to the first day of the Dusi Canoe Marathon for the big field expected to attend the event.