They call him the “Fisher King”.
Hank McGregor just calls him a freak.
Len Jenkins’ total domination if K1 racing at the Hansa Fish is a
sporting stranglehold that matches by Bruce Fordyce’s reign over the
Comrades or Graeme Pope-Ellis time as the Dusi King.
“King of the Fish” mantle sits comfortably on the shoulders of
Jenkins who has won every single singles races at the Hansa Fish
since the turn of the new millennium. He has not ever lost a single
race, and his overall time in the last singles race in 2009 is the
overall race record. No-one has ever covered the distance between
Grassridge dam and Cradock quicker. His win as an U21 in 2001 still
stands as a class record as well.
So why does Hank McGregor, the reigning world marathon champion,
slap him with the label “freak”?
It’s not degrading at all. In fact until last year McGregor and
Jenkins held the K2 record for the race as well, which McGregor only
shaded with teammate Grant van der Walt after three attempts. So
McGregor has raced with Jenkins to victory in the K2 years, and for
virtually every K1 year McGregor has had to watch the back of
Jenkin’s head getting smaller in front of him.
“He is the King of the Fish without a shadow of a doubt,” says
McGregor, whose sporting mantra of “First is First and Second is
Nothing” simply amplifies this comment.
“There is no-one else on this planet who is able to go flatbox for
three hours like Len does on the first stage. He is a freak and I
respect that,” says McGregor.
Anyone who knows Jenkins will back up that he is an enigma. A
quicksilver nymph of a character not given boasting or gloating, and
while he can be fiercely determined, he is also something of a
He opts to train alone, often away from the other elite paddlers,
though in recent times he has been close to the top marathoners
going to the world marathon championships in Rome just two weeks
before the Hansa Fish. He is often unconventional in his training
and his tactics. Never afraid to defy convention, and when he keeps
it all together it can be a truly unbeatable mix.
“I actually don’t k now why I have been so successful at the Hansa
Fish,” muses Jenkins. “That first day just seems to have been made
for me. I love the river and somehow I am able to go flatout for the
whole of the first stage, which might be the difference.”
Stage One from Grassridge dam to just below Knutsford bridge is
where victory is set up on the Hansa Fish. It is a long way – 49km
is one of the longest stages for a multi day roughwater marathon.
“It is a long way, and by the time I get to the finish I am
red-lining,” says Jenkins. “If it was another couple of kilometres
further I would go bang!”
Jenkins has moulded a formula for the Hansa Fish that somehow works
for him. It would be a suicidal formula for most paddlers, and very
much bucks the conventional wisdom of multi day river marathoning.
Simply put, here is the Len Jenkins gameplan for winning the Hansa
-Race hard across the dam.
- Run the portage very fast.
- Put into the river first (3km done)
- Gun it alone at the front. Stretch the lead.
- Enter and master Keith’s Flyover rapid in the lead, ideally with
no other boat in contact (10km done)
- Keep going at almost max pace
- Master Soutpans rapid (26km done)
- Keep going at max pace
- Enter zone where most crews start to worry about fatigue and
dehydration. Keep going at max pace.
- Win first stage with enough of a cushion to be able to relax,
enjoy a Hansa around the braai.
The key to success on the water for Jenkins is to stay relaxed and
keep the plan simple. He sometimes struggles with K2 crews – he and
Hank McGregor chopped and changed during the Dusi campaign, and his
now immortalised Dusi implosion when he was paddling with Michael
Mbanjwa is canoeing folklore. His Fish with big Matt Bouman started
according to his winning formula above, and disintegrated in a
disaster day two last year.
“I think I have a different boat-feel, which is why I love K1
racing.” admitted Jenkins.
The NCC Star has a challenge in common with several other elite and
masters paddlers because he will be racing at the world marathon
championships in Rome on 22 and 23 September, giving him a slim
eleven day turnaround time to jet home, shake off the jetlag, travel
to Cradock, prepare and trip and set about the defence of his Hansa
Can he bring his A game after peaking for the worlds just two weeks
“It is very do-able, but I will be in the same boat as guys like
Hank McGregor and Grant van der Walt who will also racing at the
worlds. The trick is just not to get sick from all the travelling.”
Marathon paddling is a discipline in which elite athletes definitely
improve with age. The worlds very best tend to peak in their mid
thirties so there is plenty of time for Jenkins to extends his run
of five unbeaten overall race crowns at the Hansa Fish.
Jenkins, who loves to settle down with a Hansa and enjoy the music
concerts in Cradock after the race, has a soft spot for the Hansa
Fish. “It is just a brilliant race, one of my absolute favourites,”
The Fisher King on the top step of the podium come Saturday
afternoon 6 October? Bank on it…
Len Jenkins at the Hansa Fish K1 championship years
1997 – 1st U16
1999 – 1st U18
2001 – 1st and 1st U21
2003 – 1st
2005 – 1st
2007 – 1st
2009 – 1st
2012 - ?
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