South Africa: Refreshed Ward Looks to Go One Better At Drak Challenge
This year's runner-up Jenna Ward will be hoping that two weeks in Thailand shortly before the 2017 N3TC Drak Challenge canoe marathon will help more than hinder her performance at the two-day contest that takes place on the uMzimkhulu River in the Southern Drakensberg on 21-22 January.
While Ward's Euro Steel team mate Abby Solms again goes into the encounter as strong pre-race favourite, Ward's career best second place at the event earlier this year had many predicting she would again be a strong podium hopeful next year.
Despite her current down time coming just weeks before the 2017 Drak, Ward is confident that her end-of-year break will enable her to compete at her best rather than hamper her podium hopes as she steps up from the Under-23 to senior ranks.
'I'm always looking to be competitive and never enter a race not wanting to win,' says Ward.
'However, I think aiming to win might be unrealistic but, being my first year as a senior, I'll definitely try my best to get onto the podium.
'Being in Thailand does mean my training takes a big knock but after a really busy 2016, the break I'm sure will do me well and will mean I'll be able to start the new year fresh,' she adds.
The Drak Challenge is popular event for many, with Ward being no different.
The steep, technical rapids of day one are then complemented with flatter pools of Sunday's second stage, giving participants a balance of all river paddling elements.
'Drak is such a great race and is definitely my favourite race on the calendar!
'It has such great rapids, clean water and its held in an amazing part of the country.
'I definitely prefer day one to day two as I absolutely love the upper sections of the gorge and I do enough flat water racing during the rest of the year so, for me, the Drak is all about the rapids!'
Ward's affinity for the race has seen her earn two fifth places and a third in 2013, 2014 and 2015 respectively, to go with her 2016 runner-up effort.
While seeking to maintain a balance between being realistic and her natural determination and competitive nature, Ward anticipates a battle royale between Solms, Euro Steel's Bridgitte Hartley and herself for next year's Drak Challenge's podium places.
'Abby is just unstoppable at the moment and I'll definitely be trying my best to keep as close to her as possible.
'It will also be interesting to see how Bridg (Hartley) goes in the bigger water and rapids.'
Source: South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee