The 2016 edition of the 50Miler Canoe Marathon, presented by StaminoGro, was historic in many ways. For the first time since its inception in 1957 the race was held over one day instead of two and for the first time in history, the race has been won by an African paddler. Previous Dusi winner, Sbonelo Khwela put his river knowledge, great running ability and strong paddling together to carve out this historic victory.
Against a strong field, Khwela was patient and consistent in all aspects of the race, putting together a sublime performance in difficult conditions. The race format was changed due to the drought situation and obviously, despite recent rains and a small water release from Henly Dam, had relatively low water levels.
These racing conditions require careful management of equipment and a paddler’s physical resources, which Khwela managed perfectly on the day, finishing ahead of reigning Dusi Champion, Andy Birkett. Third place was another former Dusi winner Thulani Mbanjwa who is coming into great form this season with this third place and a second place in the Ozzie Gladwin canoe race, behind Birkett at that race as well.
Birkett didn’t have it all his way on the day, he broke the nose of canoe and cracked the back deck after colliding into a submerged rock in the river. He then managed under the circumstances but was unable to match Khwela on the day. The race saw the front three emerge by the time they crested the Pink Rock portage and then had to tackle numerous challenging rapids in between including the aptly named Thombi, Hippo and Gumtree rapids before the finish just past Umfula Store.
The women’s race however was a total different affair which saw Dusi Champion Abby Solms dominating from start to finish. In a sublime show of strength and river skill, Solms outperformed her competitors which included London Olympics Bronze medalist, Bridgitte Hartley who will be attempting her first Dusi Canoe Marathon in 2017. Solms made a strong statement to all who wanted to challenge her crown and proving she would be very difficult to beat come the season highlight in February next year. Hartley finished second but can take great value out of the river experience gained in these conditions.
With a strong field, full of young paddlers and those wanted to gain a valuable Dusi qualifier, the 2016 50Miler, presented by StaminoGro was hailed a great success by all despite the heat and relatively low river conditions. Those who gained this historic finishers medal will savour the experience for many years to come and will be a talking point for a long time.
Photo Credits: 369 Communications