After witnessing a test event for the 2017 International Canoe Federation (ICF) Marathon World Championships at Camps Drift in Pietermaritzburg on the weekend, the ICF Canoe Marathon Committee has given the venue and organisers a big thumbs.
Next year’s World Champs will be hosted by Natal Canoe Club (NCC). Stefan Gustafsson, a member of the ICF Committee, told The Witness: “The facilities are excellent. This club is made by canoeists for canoeists, and that’s a great thing.”
“There is lots of open space and lots of opportunities for spectators,” added ICF Canoe Marathon Chair of the Board of Directors Jorn Cronberg.
The Committee also gave their seal of approval to the timing system employed by NCC, which they said mirrors that used by the ICF.
Former K2 world junior champion Louis Hattingh, who won the test event, said: “I think it was much nicer than last year’s course [for the South African Championships], to be honest, mostly because you finish in a straight line, instead of finishing coming around a corner.”
There was no major difference on the portage, he added, excepting that the paddlers now needed to hold their boats in their dominant hand.
ICF Chair Cornberg said he was looking forward to very competitive racing at the World Championships. The results would be difficult to predict, he said. “It is open because compared to last year these are quite different water conditions. I think the Hungarians were favoured last year because it was home ground and they knew the water and the current. This water is more neutral.”
Gustafsson added: “Marathon is strong in South Africa with all the paddlers, and they will really go for it this time to be South African heroes here on their own turf. Hungarian paddlers have already started visiting here, with Adrian Boros and Vanda Kiszli and some others coming out this winter.”
Cornberg said it was good to be moving the World Championships away from its traditional stronghold in Europe. “It is always nice to go outside of Europe. For us, it is important to go to the continents and promote our sport there.”
Special Advisor to the ICF Committee, former Dusi Canoe Marathon great Tim Cornish, said the event would be utilised to promote African marathon racing. He explained: “Within the World Championships there will be an African Championships, not a separate race, but separate medals for the African positions within the rankings. It will certainly be used to try and develop marathon racing from other African countries.”
The biggest challenge countries face with the event being hosted on the southern tip of Africa is the transportation of boats. European countries are able to band together and organise containers for them, but other nations, like those from Africa, find matters more difficult. The local organising committee has, however, already taken steps to address that issue, Cornish said.
“We suffered [at the 2014 World Championships] in Oklahoma because the Oklahoma organisers didn’t really make any effort to provide boats for those people. Here in South Africa we bought a whole lot of boats for the African Sprint Championships last weekend. The plan is to keep those boats and have them available for hire next year, and source as many other boats from the club as we can, so that we can at least offer some boats for hire.”