Following a festival of sprint paddling action over the past month, the much anticipated, 20-country strong Canoe Sprint African Championships will round off a busy local sprint season at the already highly commended Shongweni Dam sprint course just outside Hillcrest from 1-3 April.
The African Championships come to Shongweni with added spice in 2016 with the event having been allocated seven qualification spots for the 2016 Olympic Games, providing much additional incentive for many of the paddlers taking part.
The events that have been singled out in the canoeing category are the C1 Men 200m and 1000m races as well as the C2 Men 1000m clash while in the more popular kayak category, the K1 Men and Women 200m events together with the K1 Men 1000m and the K1 Women 500m tussles will be the events most closely watched due to Olympic qualification status.
Despite South African sensation Bridgitte Hartley set to compete at the continental showpiece, much of the focus will be on the paddlers from the other 19 countries to see whether they qualify for the global showpiece in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil later in the year after Hartley already booked her place at the event through her 2015 World Championships and recent 2016 SA Champs efforts.
Along with Hartley, the weekend’s racing will see the return of four other Olympians with all of the quartet once again looking to finish first in the respective events in order to book their ticket to the Olympics.
Mohamed Ali Mrabet represented Tunisia in the Men’s K1 200m and 1000m races at the London Olympic Games in 2012 with his best result being a semi-final in the 1000m whilst fellow Tunisian Afef Ben Ismail was the women’s representative in the K1 200m and 500m in London.
The two Tunisians will be joined this weekend by the Angolan canoe pair of Nelson Henriques and Fortunato Pacavira with the former having raced in the Men’s C1 200m whilst the latter raced in the C1 1000m before the pair combined for the Men’s C2 1000m. In all three races they were eliminated in the semi-final stage.
Team South Africa will once again be the team to beat however this time around the host nation’s squad is filled with young paddlers, just starting to make their way on the international scene.
The likes of Cameron Hudson, Calvin Clack and Stuart Maclaren join the more experienced Louis Hattingh and Chrisjan Coetzee in the senior ranks while in the ladies division Hartley spearheads the attack as she starts her fine-tuning before her trip to South America, with Bianca Beavitt and Melanie van Niekerk joining her in the senior ranks and the impressive Donna Hutton looking to hold the junior girls fort for Team South Africa.
The junior boys section includes two South African paddlers in the form of Jarryd Gibson, who was victorious at the recent SA Schools Championships, and Jean van der Westhuyzen, who dominated the week before at the South African Sprint Championships at the same Shongweni venue.
C-boat paddling is still in the developmental stage in South Africa however there will be three South African representatives taking part in the continental showpiece.
With the withdrawal of Calvin Makoto, paddlers Phillemon Maema and the young Thulani Mathe have been included alongside Radoslav Olszewski.
Maema comes into the team having competed at the ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships in 2015 and will add experience to the team along with the stalwart Olszewski.
Countries taking part:
Algeria, Angola, Cameroon, Cote d Ivoire, Djibouti, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Libya, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, Seychelles, Soa Tome & Principe, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Tunisia.