Johannesburg - Four months after her emotional performance at the London Olympic Games, canoeist Bridgitte Hartley says she still can't believe she won a medal.
Hartley finished third in the women's K1 500 metres final in the English capital, and stepped on the podium to collect her bronze medal with tears in her eyes.
"I have to admit that I still find it difficult to explain my feelings and at times everything still feels somewhat unreal," Hartley said this week.
"What I can honestly say, is that it was the best day of my life. I was at the same time happy, sad, joyful, excited and speechless.
"I experienced every possible emotion while I was standing on the podium, watching the South African flag being hoisted next to the flag of Hungary, the top nation in sprint canoeing."
Hartley, who became the first South African to bag a canoeing medal at the Games, held off a charge from a strong field, which included multiple World Championships medallist Sofia Paldanius, who was fourth, and former Olympic champion Josefa Idem of Italy, who was fifth.
Hungarian Danuta Kozak won the race and Ukrainian Inna Osypenko-Radomska, the defending champion, edged Hartley for the silver medal.
"I only realised that I had won a medal after I had crossed the line at the end of the race," she said.
"It was definitely the hardest race of my life. I have honestly never suffered so much pain as during the Olympic final.
"The pain began from the moment the race started and I had to keep telling myself not to worry about what the other girls were doing, but just to keep on racing my own race."
After eight years as a sprint canoeist, Hartley, 29, said she was still driven to compete, and she was targeting another medal at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
She also hoped to step on the podium at the global championships, which will be held in Duisburg, Germany, next year, and in Moscow, Russia, in 2014.
"After receiving my medal, I am definitely motivated to go on for another four years.
"I basically need to sit down with my coach, Nandor Almasi, and regroup."