Tunisian paddlers star at African Champs second day

Tunisia has reason to celebrate after Saturday’s second day’s racing of the 2016 ICF Canoe Sprint African Championships at Shongweni Dam, KwaZulu-Natal saw the North African country’s sprint paddlers secure two of the four Olympic Games qualification berths up for grabs, three African Championship titles and nine Continental medals.

Having already taken part in the 2012 London Olympic Games, both Mohamed Ali Mrabet and Afef Ben Ismail’s efforts in the K1 Men 1000m and K1 Women 500m respectively were enough to secure the Tunisian pair’s qualification for the Rio de Janeiro showpiece event in August.

Mrabet was made to work hard for his result as he was pushed all the way to the line by South African fast emerging Under-23 talent Louis Hattingh, however the Tunisian’s solid start together with his hunger for Olympic qualification saw him charge to a narrow victory.

“I am so happy to qualify for the Olympics for a second time!” explained Mrabet.

“I have worked very hard for the last two years, I have been training in Germany since last year and since then my performances have improved and I’ve dropped a couple of seconds off my time.

“Last time I made the B Final so this year I want to make the A Final and why not have a medal as well?” he beamed.

While Olympic bronze medalist Bridgitte Hartley of South Africa stormed to victory in the K1 Women 500m clash, her qualification courtesy of her efforts at the 2015 World Championships opened the doorway for second place finisher Ben Ismail to secure her place at the Rio spectacle.

“It is a very long way to come from Tunisia to South Africa to have got this result makes it all worth it!” exclaimed the 22 year-old.

“I have learnt so much since the London Olympics; I’ve changed such little things but they have made such a big difference and I’m so excited to go to Rio!” she added.

The other two Olympic qualification clashes saw Senegal’s Abdoulaye Gueye edge out Buly da Conceicco Triste from São Tomé and Príncipe in the C1 Men 1000m while the closest clash of the day saw Mozambique’s Mussa Chamaune and Joaquim Lobo narrowly pip São Tomé and Príncipe’s Buly da Conceicco Triste and Atalmiro Ferreira Viegas de Ceita to the post in the C2 Men 1000m contest.

While Tunisia excelled, host nation South Africa also enjoyed an strong showing on the water, claiming gold medals – and the respective African Continental titles – in five out of the seven events the local paddlers took part in.

Victories for Hartley (K1 Women 500m), Donna Hutton (K1 Junior Women 500m), Jean van der Westhuyzen (K1 Junior Men 1000m), Louis Hattingh and Stu Maclaren (K2 Men 1000m) and Melanie van Niekerk and Bianca Beavitt (K2 Women 500m) together with Hattingh’s K1 Men 1000m silver and Calvin Mokoto and Radoslav Olszewski’s C2 Men 1000m bronze medal made for a strong South African showing.

Sunday’s third and final day’s racing of the 2016 ICF Canoe Sprint African Championships at Shongweni Dam gets underway at 09h00 with the focus shifting primarily to the short, sharp natured 200m events.

More information can be found at www.africanchamps.co.za.

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