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pierce enjoys a river dance

Australian pair Jesse Phillips and Stephen Bird led home over 900 paddlers at last Saturday's Liffey Descent, another great day in the history of this truly unique sporting event.

Not only does every self-respecting Irish paddler turn out for 'the Liffey', but every year visitors from all the great marathon canoeing nations take on the challenge.

In the K2 class, visitors can do well, since the bigger boat is more forgiving of errors on a highly technical course. Not so easy is the elite K1 class, where local knowledge is critical.



Mainstay

This year's winner was canoeing all-rounder Kevin Pierce, a mainstay of the Irish wildwater team, many times Irish marathon champion and also a top-level water polo player.

Last year, Pierce had won the wildwater class, but looking for a greater challenge, opted for a move back to K1, a class in which he had taken the junior prize at the 1996 Liffey Descent.

He had a dream run down the 18-mile course, sticking to the wash of one of the South African K2 boats.

"That's the best way to compete in K1 and I got up to Wren's Nest with them.

"They took a swim there, so I was on my own after that," he said.

Not far behind was 49-year-old Malcolm Banks, who held on for second place, despite capsizing at the notorious Palmerstown weir.

For third place, Richmond's Gert van Devanter beat previous winner Fergus Cooper by a second, with Cooper first master.

Delighted to finish second behind the Australians in K2 were Peter Egan and Pedro Lopez. Last year, this pair had swum at Palmerstown after a spray deck got loose.

Egan and Lopez had settled for third place when they came over Palmerstown to see the South Africans standing in the water. "A great sight!" says Egan.



THRILLED

His houseguests, Phillips and Anderson, were thrilled with their victory. "It was smooth all the way. We got away with the South African pair in the jungle just after Straffan and when they capsized at Palmerstown, we were on our own."

Other winners were Sean McCarthy of Salmon Leap junior K1, Keith McGuirk of Wilwater Canadian racing class and Liz Shouldice women's general purpose.

Winning junior wildwater was Aisling Smith with her Wildwater clubmate Aisling Conlan second.


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