Andy Birkett announced his return to the international marathon racing stage with a stunning gold medal at the men’s 21-km marathon event at the World Games in Birmingham, Alabama, U.S., on Tuesday.
After a disappointing short course race where he battled asthma as he finished eighth, Pietermaritzburg-born Birkett went toe to toe with the Danish world champion Mads Pedersen in extreme heat at the Oak Mountain State Park, and won a thrilling end-sprint to claim the title.
“The pace that Mads was setting down was insane!” said Birkett after the eight-lap final.
“He has taken the race from a slow, strategic race with a big end-sprint to a fast race, and to be competitive in the end-sprint you have to be there.”
The 2018 world champion added:
I had the goal of just trying to stay with him. I don’t think anyone has stuck with him in a race for a while,” said Birkett, the reigning Dusi champion. “I found another gear towards the end and backed myself. I am happy because yesterday I had quite a bad race. This is the first time back racing internationally after a long time, so I am happy to just be in the mix.
“It is always a privilege to race against the world’s top athletes and that was my intention here, to try and get back into the mix and feel what it is like. In South Africa we have a lot of races so keeping your motivation for the sport is easy!” an elated Birkett added.
Bridgitte Hartley managed a 13th-place finish in the women’s full marathon race earlier on Tuesday.
On Monday, Birkett secured an eighth in the men’s marathon short course final, while Bridgitte Hartley finished 13th in the 3,6-km race won by Hungarian Vanda Kiszli, who went on to win the double by clinching the full marathon gold on Tuesday.
SUMMARY OF RESULTS
WORLD GAMES CANOEING MARATHON
1. Andy Birkett RSA 1:23:52.83
2. Mads Brandt Pedersen DEN 1:23:53.13
3. Ivan Alonso ESP 1:25:14.82
1. Vanda Kiszli HUN 1:32:40.76
2. Cathrine Rask DEN 1:32:56.66
3. Eva Barrios ESP 1:34:16.65
13. Bridgette Hartley RSA 1:39:56
MONDAY, July 11
MEN’S SHORT COURSE
1. Mads Brandt Pedersen DEN 13:50.92
2. Nico Marco Paufler GER 14:01.41
3. Eivind Andreas Vold NOR 14:02.88
8. Andy Birkett RSA +47.76 14:38.68
WOMEN’S SHORT COURSE
1. Vanda Kiszli HUN 15:22.46
2. Eva Barrios ESP 15:34.49
3. Zsoka Csikos HUN 15:34.68
13. Bridgitte Hartley RSA 17:01.96.