Canoeist dies during grueling 125-mile race following heat warnings

Henry Bodkin
The death occurred during the final stage of the four-day race in London - Philip Hollis

A canoeist has died during the notorious 125-mile Devizes to Westminster race following warnings that the hot weather and slow river made this year’s challenge even tougher than usual.

Organisers on Monday confirmed the fatality, understood to be that of an adult single kayaker and the first of any competitor in the event’s 71-year history.

The death took place during the final stage of the four-day race early on Monday morning between Richmond in West London and Westminster Bridge.

Described as one of the hardest endurance events in the world, this year’s race was predicted to be particularly gruelling because of the warm temperatures and the low level of the Thames.

A spokesman said the race organisers were “deeply saddened to report that an incident occurred in the final stages of this year’s race in which a paddler lost their life”.

He added: “We are cooperating with the relevant authorities in investigating the incident fully.”

To complete the course, canoeists have to pass through 77 locks as they make their way from the start along the Kennet and Avon Canal in Wiltshire, before joining the Thames, going onto the tidal stretch of the river for the final stage.

Previous competitors include the former Liberal Democrat leader and commando Paddy Ashdown, the explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes and the Olympic rower James Cracknell.

The race takes place over Easter weekend and includes a non-stop adults’ doubles event starting on Easter Saturday and finishing on Sunday.

The four-stage race, which involves junior doubles, senior singles, and a veteran and junior touring class, begins on Good Friday.

David Joy, Chief Executive of British Canoeing, said: “I’m sure our whole community will be deeply upset to hear the tragic news this morning that a paddler has lost their life whilst competing in the Devizes to Westminster Canoe Race.

“On behalf of British Canoeing, our thoughts and condolences are with the family, friends and clubmates of the paddler.”