Hank McGregor: World Class Performer

When South Africa clinched the men’s kayak team title at the 2014 ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships in Oklahoma City, Hank McGregor was to the fore, winning both the K1 and K2 titles. Those victories placed a loud exclamation mark on an already outstanding career.

McGregor, with national colours for surfski, marathon, sprints and lifesaving, has followed in the footsteps of his father, Lee, who has also won national colours in the four disciplines and is a current K1 and K2 World Champion in senior marathon competition.

The younger McGregor is, however, undoubtedly the best South African paddler in the history of the country; not only has he participated internationally in the four disciplines, he has been among the world’s best in three of them. Now he has set his sights on excelling in the fourth – sprints.

He represented South Africa in sprints between 1997 and 2004, but missed out on two Olympic qualifiers. The first time he was ill, and on the second occasion the International Olympic Committee gave the go-ahead for his participation, but the National Olympic Committee of South Africa didn’t. They said he was not a medal contender.

“It is the one discipline that, internationally, I haven’t been successful in. I would really like to win an international sprint regatta, if it’s 5000m or 1000m, it is just one of things for which I have not ticked the box,” McGregor said.

In 2014, however, McGregor ticked plenty of boxes. “It was a big year for me, right from the beginning of the season. It was the birth of my first child, I became a double World Champion, I won the Molokai Challenge on a surfski, and to have won the Non-Stop Dusi [a very tough 120km one-day race] was also a big thing. And then I went on to win the Fish River Marathon, which was the one K1 race I hadn’t won.”

Recently becoming a father has changed his outlook on life, McGregor admitted, but it has not dulled his burning desire to win when racing. “For me, I still have that bullet between my teeth. I am still keen to keep going. I think when my mind relaxes or slacks off my body will follow, but at the moment the brain is still ticking.”

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the five-time World Champion is that he is not a full-time professional. “I have a full-time job and I work like a normal person,” McGregor explained. “Everyone thinks I am a full-time professional, but I am a full-time racer and a part-time paddler. A lot of people think you have to be 100 per cent professional to be able to race at the highest level, but you can still hold a normal job, and you can still study and have a career, and at the same time race at the highest level as well. You’re 100 per cent committed when you’re training. As long as you are in the arena, you train to your fullest.”

Setting the standard, both internationally and for his country, is something that he is immensely proud of. McGregor concluded: “I definitely think South African paddling is at an all-time high. I’m really proud and honoured to be part of it.”

Career highlights

  • Junior World Champion Flatwater Marathon in Sweden, 1996.
  • Multiple South African K1 and K2 Champion, Flatwater Marathon.
  • Multiple South African K1 and K2 Champion, River Marathon.
  • Multiple South African Single-Ski and Double-Ski Champion (including winning Flatwater Marathon, River Marathon and Surfski titles all in the same year – a record).
  • Winner of every major river title in South Africa, K1 and K2.
  • Winner of a record nine Berg River Canoe Marathons – at 230km the longest canoe marathon in South Africa.
  • Winner of every surfski title in the country, from lifesaving through to the long-distance Cape Point to East London race.
  • Five world marathon titles – four K1, and one K2 with Jasper Mocke.
  • South African K1, K2, K4 Sprint Championship titles.
  • National colours in surfski, marathon, sprints and lifesaving.
  • Molokai Challenge winner.
Canoe Marathon