Writer: Nick Tatham | Photographer: Lynne Hauptfleisch | Gameplan Media - With a record number of nations entered, the seventh edition of the ICF Canoe Sprint African Championships got under way at the brand new sprint course at Shongweni Dam, KwaZulu-Natal in sweltering hot weather.
With the temperature topping forty degrees Centigrade at midday, the first day’s programme of 1000 metres heats for K1, K2, C1 and C2 classes saw some competitive racing as athletes sought the direct qualification for their respective finals while others had to navigate their way onto the final start list through the semi-finals.
With a cold front approaching the region, strong winds at midday made for choppy conditions with a side wind that tested some of the less confident crews. The experienced and stronger boats were however untroubled by the wind and heat as they stamped their mark on the event early.
Tunisian ace Mohammed Ali Mrabet showed that his form has kicked on since his semi-final showing at the London Olympic Games as he cantered through his Men's 1000m K1 heat, setting up an appetising final where he will meet local speedster and former junior Marathon World Champion, Louis Hattingh in the final.
Senegal's Abdoulaye Gueye laid down a marker in the Men's C1 1000m heats, setting himself up as the man to beat, with the strongest challenge likely to come from Buly Da Conceicco Triste of Sao Tome and Principe and Libya's Mohamed Serb.
In the afternoon doubles racing Buly Da Conceicco Triste earned a berth in the C2 final with his countryman Atamiro Ferreira Viegas De Ceita coasting home well clear of the local crew of Radovan Oszewski and Calvin Makoto.
In the 1000m K2 heat Louis Hattingh and Stu McLaren won a ding-dong duel with the Tunisian crew of Mohamed Ali Mrabet and Yassine Belhaj Mohamed to clinch the prime lane five in Saturday's final.
With cooler weather forecast for Saturday the programme turns to the 1000m and 500m finals for men and women, and with them the allocation of the first of the seven Olympic qualification places up for grabs at the event.
Full result can be found at www.africanchamps.co.za.