NORTON AND SMITH CLAIM VICTORIES IN CONTROVERSIAL FINISH
Jemma Smith and Danielle McKenzie have added another chapter to their storied rivalry in a dramatic second race of the Shaw and Partners WA Race Week.
Gale-force offshore winds forced organisers of the Dr Benjamin Hewitt Sunset Series to abandon plans for an 11 kilometre point-to-point event and instead host a three-lap circuit off City of Perth beach.
Smith and McKenzie slogged it out side-by-side, and although both had moments where they threatened to break clear, it came down to a sprint up the sand.
It was McKenzie, the 2019 World Champion, who sprung to her feet first.
However when she started running, she did so without her ski – something that Smith was quick to point out to officials.
Competitors were told in the pre-race briefing they needed to drag their skis up the beach, beyond the first row of sponsor flags.
So although McKenzie crossed the line first, she was slapped with a penalty and relegated to second place.
Danielle McKenzie (nearest) and Jemma Smith (furthest) side-by-side during the second race of the Shaw and Partners WA Race Week.
An outcome that Smith admits left her feeling somewhat uncomfortable.
“Yeah it definitely does,” she told The Paddler.
“There was a bit of confusion there and it makes it not as sweet to claim the victory.
“I just have to take it, roll with it and move onto the next race.”
“It’s always such a tight tussle between Dani and I, and today was another showing of that. It should make for some really close racing for the rest of the week.”
The women’s starting wave set off a few minutes earlier than the men, but by the second lap, paddlers of all genders and ages were strung out across the course.
At one point, Smith and McKenzie found themselves in the men’s chase pack, which created a unique dynamic.
“It was really, really testing in the looped course that was thrown up,” Smith says.
“There were a lot of different tactics going on, especially when the men caught up as well. It sort of threw a bit of havoc into the race.
“You just have to put your best foot froward.”
Smith (7:53) and McKenzie (48:49) were joined on the podium by Canadian sprint kayak Olympian Maddie Schmidt (49:23).
Ironwoman Hannah Sculley (50:07) posted another impressive result to finish fourth, just ahead of South Africa’s 2021 World Champion Michelle Burn (50:19).
McKenzie (left), Smith (centre) and Schmidt (right) on top of the podium.
The men’s race was just as thrilling, and finished just as close.
After finishing third in his first major downwind race on Saturday, two-time Olympian Riley Fitzsimmons exploded off the start, leading the field for the first kilometre.
But it didn’t take long for Gordan Harbrecht to take over.
The German powerhouse, coming off a fourth place at last month’s World Championships, surged to the front – and he didn’t slow down.
Harbrecht leading the race around for the next two laps, before a small chase pack of Cory Hill, Tom Norton, Mark Keeling and Hank McGregor reeled him back in.
That wasn’t the end of his race, though.
Harbrecht making another move on the final turn at the top of the course, that saw him and Norton open a gap over the others – beginning a one kilometre drag race to the finish.
Like the women’s battle, Norton and Harbrecht ended up on the same wave where, after some uncertainty of their own, the Australian claimed a memorable sprint-finish victory.
“I think that actually might be my first,” Norton laughs.
“I came down the wave and I just checked with Gordan and said, ‘Are we dragging?’. He looked at me with a puzzled expression and said, ‘What?’
“I just thought I’d try my best and whatever happens, happens… and it paid off.”
GALLERY: Click across to view the sprint finish between Tom Norton and Gordan Harbrecht.
The result provides a huge shot of confidence to the new-father.
After sitting out the World Championships to stay home with his pregnant fiancé Georgia, the Shaw and Partners WA Race Week is his first international hit-out since 2019.
“It’s a really good feeling,” he says. “I know I’ve done the work and I feel ready.
“With the class of field here, knowing you’re going up against Hank McGregor, the 11-time marathon World Champion, Kenny Rice, the current surfski World Champion… to feel strong against them, it definitely gets my tail up for the rest of the week.”
Although he fell just short of the win, Harbrecht felt a similar source of inspiration on his first-ever trip to Australia and the surfski stronghold of Perth.
“It’s an amazing week with many people, which for me is very new because it’s my first time in Australia.
“I’m just soaking up everything. We had an awesome downwind yesterday with amazing runs.
“The first race was tricky for me because I wasn’t comfortable… but with so much racing I am looking forward to the big one at the end of the week.”
Harbrecht (left), Hill (centre) and Norton (right) on the sand after the second race of the Shaw and Partners WA Race Week.
The margins between the men were tight.
Norton (42:57) and Harbrecht (43:00) were only seconds ahead of Cory Hill (43:16).
Mark Keeling (43:27) ended up in fourth with Hank McGregor (44:04) in fifth.
The results mean Hill and Smith both remain on top of the Shaw and Partners WA Race Week’s overall point score.
“I felt confident on the way down because there was a small downwind on the way home, but the other boys were too fast,” Hill says.
“To still be on top of the point score is a good feeling but we have plenty of races to come.”