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Cape Town youngsters paddle to golden victory at canoe world champs in Denmark

Cape Town youngsters paddle to golden victory at canoe world champs in Denmark
It was a nail-biting final lap for Holly Smith (left) and Georgia Singe, who were competing against Spain, Hungary and Great Britain. (Photo: Supplied)

Camps Bay High School’s Holly Smith and Fish Hoek High School’s Georgia Singe made history by securing South Africa’s first gold medal at this year’s canoeing world championships.

Seventeen-year-olds Holly Smith and Georgia Singe partnered and plotted their way to victory in a race that lit up the ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships in Vejen, Denmark, on 2 September. In a nail-biting final lap, competing against Spain, Hungary and Great Britain, Smith and Singe prevailed through good teamwork and strategic mastery.

The duo’s resilience and determination to take control of the race during the portage section of the last lap of the marathon bagged them the gold medal. Smith explains that the plan was to “go out hard and hopefully be in the front bunch and stay there for the duration of the race”.

“When the Hungarians broke away, it seemed there was a group of three teams fighting for two medals; so we were hoping we wouldn’t get fourth place.

“We just carried on grinding and slowly caught the Hungarians’ wake. Our main goal was to run as hard as we could during the last portage, and we managed to break away and secure the win. We couldn’t believe it! We weren’t expecting the win,” says Smith.

Though the marathon is a triumph, Singe wishes the duo could have trained harder for the K2 junior women marathon – as that would have made for a smoother performance.

“The start in the K2 could have been better if we had trained for it – and definitely for the portages,” observes Singe.

Such knowledge will benefit them in the event next year, which will be their final year of competing in the junior women category.

“From here it’s just going to be a lot of hard work, training and more sacrifices, especially if we have got to try and win the title again for the K2. It’s in Croatia next year. I think it’s a beautiful country. K1 is also going to be fun now. We are at the top of the age group, so it’s going to be great,” says Singe.

Camps Bay High School’s head of sport, Busi Ngcwama, is very proud of the achievement and says it is a milestone for canoeing in South Africa. 

“This is an incredible achievement, not just for Holly and Georgia but for South Africa as a whole. It’s the first gold medal for South African junior women, and the first gold medal for South Africa at the ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships in 2023. We couldn’t be more thrilled.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Paddling to progress: The Soweto Canoe and Recreation Club keeping young heads above water

ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships

Georgia Singe and Holly Smith Smith with their gold medals at the ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships 2023. (Photo: Supplied)

In June, Smith and Singe competed at the SA Marathon Canoeing Championships and Surf Ski World Trials to gain the chance to compete in Denmark.

Of the marathon event, Smith explains: “It’s only one race, so it’s all or nothing; only 2% per age group get selected.

“It was really thrilling but hard for both the K1 and K2, to be selected, as there was a strong field of junior girls wanting to make the South African team,” says Smith.

Both medalists fell in love with canoeing from the get-go. Smith discovered the sport when she embarked on an adventure with her brother and coach down the Orange River. “He started paddling two years before I did and he and my dad said I should try it. I instantly fell in love.”

Singe started off with surfskiing during the Covid pandemic and from there it progressed to flat-water canoeing. “I tried out sprints; I loved that and then I ended up doing canoeing  marathons, which I’m just loving. It is a great race, a hard grind from start to finish.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Khayelitsha surfer who was once ‘terrified of the ocean’ heads to Hungary for Stand Up Paddling champs

Both schools are supportive of the girls’ sport interests and allow for them to catch up with studies and make sure they excel academically as well.

“It is super-hard to find a balance when you are trying to compete and train on a world level, so I do miss a little bit of school more than I would like to with all the tours. But at least the school is very allowing when it comes to catch-ups and test catch-ups. That I’m grateful for,” Singe says.

Smith is looking forward to competing at the 2023 ICF Canoe Ocean Racing World Championships in Perth, Australia, in November.

“I’m off to world surfski in Australia at the end of the year and hopefully get some serious sponsors that will help with travelling in the future,” she says. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Pet Bug says:

    Wow 🤩 well done!!
    Schools too, for recognising that Sportlers on this level need lots and lots and lots
    of support.

  • watered down says:

    Amazing, kinka and URL’s not allowed but if you open youtube and drop the search option below, the end of the race will be available. They were under immense pressure and their portage gave them a small advantage.

    youtube search: K2 Junior Women Highlights / 2023 ICF Canoe-Kayak Marathon World Championships Vejen

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