Dusi Bridge - Andrew Birkett stormed to the overnight lead in The Unlimited Dusi canoe marathon, shattering the ten year old stage record after a first stage peppered with dramatic developments systematically derailed the top contenders.

Twenty year old Birkett, who won last year’s K2 race along with Jason Graham, looked incredibly strong throughout the 43 kilometre first day and despite brief rudder trouble midway through the day he went on to take the win 46 seconds ahead of defending champion Ant Stott.

“I got off to a good start and at the bottom of Ernie Pearce Weir. It was Len, myself and Ant out in the front which was quite special as we’re all from (Maritzburg) College. But after that it was a long slog all the way and once I took the lead I had to work incredibly hard to keep Ant (Stott) at bay,” said Birkett.

The widely fancied Michael Mbanjwa was the race leader at the end of the 4,5km long Campbell's Farm portage, where Birkett and Stott both experienced problems. However the gutsy Birkett staged a charge from behind that saw him erase an almost one minute deficit by the end of the Guinea Fowl portage.

However with the remaining three of the so called ‘Big Five’ contenders Hank McGregor, Len Jenkins and Michael Mbanjwa all battling their way through the day’s stage, the real hero of Day One was the rapidly developing Eric Zondi who deservedly came home to claim the final podium position.

“I’m extremely happy with my third place today. Thanks must go to Martin Dreyer, Michael Mbanjwa and everyone involved in the Change a Life programme because without them I couldn’t have done this,” said an elated Zondi.

With development paddlers claiming eight of the top thirteen places transformation appears to be on the up within the canoeing world and will particularly please Martin Dreyer and his Change A Life team.

More drama unfolded in the ladies race as 20-year-old Robyn Kime made an error at Ernie Pearce Weir right at the start of the race and the resultant swim cost her 30 seconds which gave Abby Adie the chance to break free.

However Kime staged a thrilling charge that ended with her shattering the women's Under 21 record by more than fifteen minutes, in medium river conditions not well suited to breaking records.

Change a Life Academy pupil Mmeli Cele ran and paddled his way to a five minute lead in the junior boys race, finishing seventeenth overall. The junior girls race is being led by Under 16 star Bianca Haw.

The 43km second stage of the Unlimited Dusi is from Dusi Bridge to Inanda Dam.

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

1.Andrew Birkett (U21) 2:43.56
2.Ant Stott 2:44.42
3.Sibonelo Zondi 2:47.03
4.Michael Mbanjwa 2:47.37
5.Lance Kime (U21) 2:51.43
6.Hank McGregor 2:54.51
7.Thomas Ngidi 2:57.34
8.Piers Cruickshanks 2:57.45
9.Nhlanhlayakhe Cele 2:59.17
10.John Ngcobo 3:01.09
11.Grant Woollaston 3:01.38
12.Kwanda Mhlophe 3:01.42
13.Nkosikayise Cele 3:02.13
14.Zonele Nzuza 3:02.14
15.Lucas Mthalane 3:03.13

1.Robyn Kime 3:16.38
2.Abby Adie 3:24.06
3.Hilary Pitchford 3:35.22

Junior Boys
1.Mmeli Cele 3:05.26

Junior Girls
1.Bianca Haw 3:49.13