herald

Sunday 23 November 2014

Loews hit new high in Liffey descent

When it comes to spectacle, the Liffey Descent, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last Saturday, never disappoints.

At the start in the K Club at Straffan, streams of canoes in all shapes and sizes head off full of hope. Within minutes, they hit the first of 10 weirs. Even with a good, clean flood of water, disaster strikes at least one in three. Paddlers cling to boat and paddles, head for the shore and climb back in.

The kiss of death is a kind word from race commentator Tony Martin, perched safely on a platform above all the carnage. If Tony complements you on your paddling, be very afraid. No one is spared.

"Oh dear -- that's my brother-in-law! Hold on to your paddle there!" he says.

For some reason, Tony Martin is only employed to commentate on the start -- an hour and 46 minutes later, when the Loew brothers reach Islandsbridge in a new record time, they glide over the finish unremarked.

Behind them came a second South African pair, Gavin White and Graeme Soloman, while sprinting home for third were Malcolm Banks and Barry Watkins, the best of the Irish. "The South Africans got away very early -- we hit a tree in the 'jungle' just after Straffan and that was it," said Banks afterwards.

Luck also played its part. Peter Egan and Pedro Lopez sank at Palmerstown because a spraydeck came loose after the portage around the Leixlip dam. They still finished sixth.

In K1, overall winner was the veteran Deaglain 'Digger' O Driscoll, who beat Gary Mawer into second. First junior was Liam Banks. A clear winner of the women's K1 class was wildwater racer Liz Shouldice, delighted to have had an incident-free race. Not so lucky was Iain 'Haggis' McLean, who took an early bath at Straffan but still finished his 43rd "Liffey" in 2:41.14.

Lots of old Liffey hands had opted for the touring doubles class this year, and coming home first were Morgan and Fergus Cooper, who ended the 10-year winning streak of Gerry Collins and Mick Keating.

After 50 years, the Liffey Descent has become a national treasure.

Rumours abound that it may be scaled down next year because the Irish Canoe Union hasn't enough staff to manage it. We can only hope that a voluntary committee will come together and guarantee the future of a unique event that thousands look forward to each year.

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