Khwela nervous ahead of Ozzie Gladwin portage tester

EuroSteel's Sbonelo Khwela anxiously awaits this year's Ozzie Gladwin Canoe Marathon, presented by Parklane SuperSpar, as he prepares for the early season portage test the race presents. = Anthony Grote/ Gameplan Media

EuroSteel’s Sbonelo Khwela anxiously awaits this year’s Ozzie Gladwin Canoe Marathon, presented by Parklane SuperSpar, as he prepares for the early season portage test the race presents. = Anthony Grote/ Gameplan Media

Pietermaritzburg – 2014 Dusi Canoe Marathon K2 champion Sbonelo Khwela will start as a popular favourite for this year’s Ozzie Gladwin Canoe Marathon, presented by Parklane SuperSpar on Sunday 9 November, but openly admits that he is well short of his best form when running with a boat.

The 26 year-old EuroSteel athlete is arguably the best in the business when it comes to the unique skill required by many of KwaZulu-Natal’s biggest canoeing races. After many months since paddlers were last required to do so, even Khwela is somewhat anxious ahead of next weekend’s task though.

“I’ll be at Ozzie (Gladwin), but I’m scared!” chuckled the Shongweni-based shining star. “I haven’t been running with the boat at all. The Umpetha Challenge two weeks’ ago was the only time I have run with the boat since the Non-Stop Dusi in March!”

Khwela clinched victory in the Umpetha Challenge which took participants from the start of the Dusi at Camps Drift in Pietermaritzburg to the Bishipstowe Hall at the top of the Campbell’s Farm portage and the final climb to the finish was a rude awakening for many.

“Running up Campbell’s (Farm portage) was really tough. My lungs were burning the whole way!

“Since the Umpetha I had just been chilling and resting before Bungee (Thulani Mbanjwa) and I starting training again yesterday (Tuesday).

“We’re training for the Vaal River Canoe Marathon this weekend though so we won’t be doing any running this week so not even that will help for Ozzie!” added Khwela.

The portage down from Albert Falls Dam to the upper stretch of the Mngeni River isn’t the only challenge Khwela and the rest of the elite stars set to tackle next weekend’s race will have to overcome though.

“There hasn’t been any water in the rivers recently so we have only really been paddling on the dam,” explained Khwela. “Ozzie is a good chance to get back on the river and test my paddling skills again.”

“The river isn’t too tough but there are a couple of tricky sections in the final two kilometres of the race, just when you’re getting tired, that will test you and mean you really have to concentrate.”

With the likes of Len Jenkins and Team Jeep/Kayak Centre’s Hank McGregor having dominated proceedings at the Ozzie Gladwin in recent years, a frenetic pace in the first four kilometres across the dam has become the norm.

While Jenkins’ participation remains doubtful and McGregor’s unknown, Khwela still believes a good start will be important if he is to do well.

“It’s important to get a good start across the dam so that you’re with the front bunch because we all haven’t been running with the boat and so will struggle to make up time on the portage.

With victory in the 2015 Dusi Canoe Marathon his sole goal for this season, Khwela is non-committal on a goal for Ozzie Gladwin however keeping up with his nearest rivals such as Andy Birkett (EuroSteel), Mbanjwa (Build it) and Lance Kime remain a priority.

The 2014 Ozzie Gladwin, presented by Parklane SuperSpar, takes place from Albert Falls Dam to Thornvale Farm on Sunday 9 November. More info can be found at www.ozziegladwin.co.za