Hartley hopes to inspire
Bridgitte Hartley (Gallo Images)
London - South Africa's latest Olympic medallist Bridgitte Hartley says she hopes her achievements at the London Olympics would have a positive spin-off for canoe sprinting.
She finished third in the women's K1 500m final on Thursday to earn South Africa's fifth Olympic medal in the British capital.
"Hopefully it would inspire people to also believe if they train hard they can get to where I have," Hartley said.
She added that winning a medal at the Games should be proof to aspiring sprint canoeists that hard work paid off.
"I hope it will boost the sport because it is not really a major sports code in South Africa," Hartley said.
"Canoeing or paddling, surf ski, river races and marathons are definitely huge in South Africa.
"But the sprint canoeing is part of the Olympic event so if you really want to go further internationally then that is the sport you have to do," she said.
Hartley felt that South Africa needed to invest more into developing coaches if the country wanted to produce more canoe sprint medallists.
"We need some coaches. Nandor [Almasi, her coach] is not actually an official coach of South Africa and thanks to Sascoc [SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee] he's been coaching me for the last four years since 2008 when he left South Africa as the national coach," she said.
"I've really been fortunate to stick with him and follow him around the world and having him as my coach.
"I'm really grateful that I could do such a thing but at the moment there is definitely a lack of coaches in South Africa for sprint canoeing."
It was Hartley's second Olympics, having competed in the K2 1000m with Michele Eray at the 2008 Beijing Games, where they reached the semi-finals before being eliminated.
Hartley finally received her proud moment on the podium as she got choked up with emotions as South Africa's flag was raised.
"I was pretty speechless. It was just such a special moment for me to stand on that podium and see the South African flag being raised next to two other amazing athletes who have medalled many times," she said.
The South African said while the county's media was divided whether Hartley would return with silverware, her coach had shown faith in her.
"I wasn't sure if South Africa really thought that I could get a medal, because there were a few newspaper articles that I did read and I wasn't included," Hartley said.
"But I wasn't too stressed because I knew I've done the training and Nandor kept saying, 'you've done everything, you are in good shape'.
"He obviously didn't say you're going to win a medal in those exact words but maybe in the back of his mind he thought that I could," she said.
The 29-year-old from Richards Bay said she started to believe that she could win a medal after she advanced past the semi-final with a favourable starting position in the final.
"Once I made lane five in the final, which I've never had in my life before, I started thinking 'I really need to believe in myself because it means I am really one of the fastest girls at this event'," she said.
Hartley said she couldn't describe the final moments of her race because of the adrenaline rush.
"Usually I can hear the commentator talking... but in the final I don't remember hearing anything and the last bit I just kept paddling and kept going for it," she said.
"I kind of thought I got a medal but I wasn't so sure so I paused and waited for South Africa to come up on the results board."