Birkett, Graham defend back-to-back Dusi title

Defending champions Andy Birkett and Jason Graham won the final stage of the Unlimited Dusi canoe marathon on Saturday to clinch the 61st edition of the race at Blue Lagoon in Durban.

The pair led from Caversham near Campbells Farm portage early in the first stage on Thursday and never looked back for the remainder of the race, coming through the final stage in two hours, 15 minutes and 17 seconds for an overall time of 7:43.02.

They also became the first pair in 22 years to claim back-to-back K2 titles.

World marathon champion Hank McGregor and Len Jenkins were a distant second, completing the race in 7:51.58, nearly nine minutes behind the winners.

Pre-race favourites Thulani Mbanjwa and Sbonelo Zondi finally had a trouble-free day and were rewarded by finishing on the podium after they crossed the line third in an overall time of 7:54.24.

The duo had all sorts of problems on the opening two days — the first was overshadowed by a broken rudder and broken seats, while the second saw them tipping over in a massive pool at Marianni Foley.

It became close to impossible for Mbanjwa and Zondi to catch Birkett and Graham in the final 35km stage between Inanda Dam and Blue Lagoon.

It did not deter them, however, from hunting down McGregor and Jenkins as they closed what was nearly a six-minute lead down to a mere few seconds, before tiring towards the end to finish two minutes, 26 seconds behind.

Abbey Ulansky and Robyn Kime won a lopsided women’s race in a record time of 8:41.59.

The title holders shattered the previous record of 8:46.03 set in 2008 by Ulansky and former partner Alexa Lombard. They finished 24th overall.

Dusi queen Ulansky, previously known as Abbey Miedema, also equalled the record of most wins by a woman in the race’s history, moving to eight alongside Marlene Loewenstein in both singles and doubles categories. – Sapa

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