Velddrif — Hank McGregor underlined his position as South Africa’s most successful canoeist when he cruised to his 13th win in the Berg River Marathon and added yet another SA title to his collection of championship medals on Saturday.
The “Berg” is one of South African canoeing’s majors and 45-year-old McGregor’s phenomenal record of 13 wins from 16 attempts is made even more remarkable by the fact that he was now won the gruelling 240km event twice in his mid 40s.
The King of SA Canoeing first won the four-day race from Paarl to Velddrif on the Cape West Coast in 2000, when he was just 22 years old, and then went unbeaten from 2005 until 2012 in a remarkable run of eight consecutive victories.
McGregor has also not simply concentrated his entire season on one event. While he has been the undisputed champion of the Berg, he has also been notching up World Championship titles and dominating the surfski scene. Since 2003, the team Euro Steel athlete has won no less than 11 World Marathon titles.
McGregor only submitted a late entry to defend his 2022 title the day before the Berg started on Wednesday, and on the opening stage he comfortably finished within the lead group of four. After a tricky start to Day 2, where he was dropped from the lead group after a series of errors in the channels that litter the stage, McGregor fought back to lead going into Day 3.
He started the long 76km stage on Friday with an advantage of about two and a half minutes over Jeremy Maher and Tom Lovemore, and they all finished in the front group again with fourth-placed David Evans.
The final day was paddled into a strong headwind blowing across the coastal floodplains near Velddrif, and McGregor was once again able to dominate things when it counted. He broke away over the final 10 kilometres to increase his lead, with Maher securing second overall by following McGregor home, while Lovemore eventually had to settle for third.
“It always feels great to get to the finish of the Berg and obviously to win it is always something special,” said McGregor, soon after crossing the line at Velddrif on Saturday. “Win number 13 for me … I never thought I would win so many.
“It was a fantastic day out. Everybody was well mannered on the water and it felt like a lot of good friends out on the water. The racing really started just before Oordraplek (a short portage about 10km from the finish on the final day) when the pace went on and the bunch split.
“I then put the hammer down from Oordraplek and managed to break away on my own. I did not want to get involved in the scrap for second and third. They (Lovemore and Maher) are both good friends of mine and I did not want to get involved in that.”
And will there be a 14th win?
“Who knows … I may be back next year. I always say I am never coming back but always seem to find my way back to Paarl and make it to Velddrif.”
In the women’s race, 21-year-old Christy Shrimpton was completely dominant as she led the entire race from Paarl on Wednesday until Velddrif on Saturday.
The Peninsula Club paddler ended the four-days with a big victory margin of just over 30 minutes, with three-time winner Bianca Beavitt second and Ansune Basson just over an hour further back.
Among the most popular finishers were Jannie Malherbe, who finished his 50th Berg, and Ralph Teulings who remarkably completed his 40th Berg in a row, while two-time former race winner, JT Basson, also notched up his 40th finish.
Final Leading Results
(with overall and daily stage times)
1 Hank McGregor (1st SM) 17:10:16 (4:12:18, 3:13:53, 5:23:11, 4:20:52)
2 Jeremy Maher (1st U23) 17:12:52 (4:12:15, 3:16:13, 5:23:10, 4:21:11)
3 Tom Lovemore 17:14:12 (4:12:17, 3:16:12, 5:23:10, 4:22:32)
4 David Evans (2nd U23) 17:21:33 (4:12:18, 3:20:48, 5:23:12, 4:25:14)
5 Daniel Jacobs (3rd U23) 17:44:30 (4:18:04, 3:32:44, 5:28:27, 4:25:13)
6 Ant Lake 17:44:43 (4:18:02, 3:32:46, 5:28:27, 4:25:27)
7 Dyllan Farrell (4th U23) 17:54:05 (4:27:02, 3:35:50, 5:28:29, 4:25:20)
8 Kenny Rice 17:59:28 (4:18:04, 3:29:15, 5:28:28, 4:43:40)
9 Jacques Theron (2nd SM) 18:02:36 (4:18:03, 3:29:15, 5:28:29, 4:46:47)
10 Ron Benjani (Israel) 18:36:27 (4:27:01, 3:50:27, 5:35:00, 4:43:57)
1 Christy Shrimpton (1st U23) 20:36:07 (4:53:12, 4:00:46, 6:12:25, 5:29:43)
2 Bianca Beavitt 21:07:10 (5:03:01, 4:04:06, 6:23:20, 5:36:41)
3 Ansune Basson 22:17:28 (5:08:29, 4:32:55, 6:50:03, 5:45:59)