Paarl – Multiple World Champion and one of South Africa’s sporting heroes, Hank McGregor, caught organisers by surprise on Tuesday afternoon when he slipped in a very late entry for the 2023 Berg River Canoe Marathon and SA Championships which starts on Wednesday morning.
While the Market Road Bridge in Paarl was always expected to be a hive of activity for the iconic four-day marathon when it sets off on its annual journey to Velddrif on the West Coast, the defending champion’s name was a conspicuous omission from the start list.
The Western Cape has experienced intense rainfall and flooding in some parts of the province in a winter that has filled the province’s dams and rivers, and the Berg River is no exception with the river hitting its 100-year flood line.
The rain seems to have subsided, and paddlers are expecting dry over-head conditions for most of the four days to the West Coast, but they will have the assistance of a full river behind them which will be a welcome assistance for some.
Before Tuesday, it seemed the gruelling 240km event from the Winelands to the West Coast looked certain to end with either a first-time winner, or a paddler who last won the race in 2004. However, McGregor’s late entry means the event now has an overwhelming favourite and it is hard to see anybody beating the 12-time champion.
Jacques Theron, who won the Berg on three occasions from 2002 to 2004, must have thought he had a great chance to roll back the years, however, it now seems the sub-master will be battling for a place on the podium but will still have his work cut out for him with a bunch of up-and-coming Under 23 stars hoping to latch onto the wake of McGregor.
Amongst those youngsters is 2022 Dusi Canoe Marathon champion David Evans – who is paddling in his first Berg. Jeremy Maher and Cape locals Daniel Jacobs and Dyllan Farrell are also amongst the challengers.
Surfski ace Kenny Rice is also amongst a group of strong novices at this year’s race and will be a boat to watch throughout the four days of racing.
In the women’s division it is almost impossible to look past three-time champion Bianca Beavitt when searching for potential winners.
Beavitt last won the race in 2017 but will be determined to get her name back on the winners roll in 2023.
Once again the Berg welcomes back a number of legends, however this year will be the first year without Giel van Deventer who passed away last year.
This year’s race is a dedication to a man that was passionate about paddling and the Berg.
Amongst the legends batch are Jannie Malherbe, Rene Boehm, Johan van Rooyen and another over 70, JT Basson, while Ralph Teulings is aiming for his 40th consecutive finish.
The legends and the slow batch will head off at 8:45am, ahead of the A batch paddlers that will race off at 9:00am.
Interestingly, there are three entrants that are going for the coveted Peninsula Iron Man for 2023. This includes cycling the Cape Town Cycle Tour, running the Two Oceans ultra-marathon and then completing the Berg. Going into the Berg, Carel Botha leads Barry Muller and Schalk Smit, however there is just a ten minute gap between Botha and Smit.