Road to London: Bridgette Hartley
Cape Town - In the first in a series of Q 'n A style interviews with South African sportsmen and women ahead of the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Graeme Joffe chats to South African sprint canoer and Beijing Olympic participant, Bridgette Hartley.
GRAEME JOFFE: The “golden girl” of SA sprint canoeing, Bridgitte Hartley - how are your Olympic preparations going ?
BRIDGITTE HARTLEY: So far so good. Just had a really big block of training with my coach in South Africa, down in Port Edward, so the major training camp for the year and for paddling and I think it has been quite successful.
JOFFE: Port Edward, how are the waters down there, good?
HARTLEY: Yes, well we train on the Umtamvuna river, so it is a little bit brown, but it is actually really good because there is quite a big stretch of water, so it is nice.
JOFFE: Leading up now to London, have you got a bunch of camps coming up or are you training more on your own?
HARTLEY: No, now I have quite a lot of international training camps coming up. The first big block of water paddling training is the one that I have just completed, now I’m off to Spain and will be there training for two weeks with a group of international girls from Austria, Slovakia, a girl from Sweden and a girl from Hungary as well. Then I’ll be home for about a week and a half and then I am heading back to Austria and Hungary for another training camp just before the World Cups which take place in May. We race the first World Cup in Poland and the second one in Germany. Then I’m home for a week and then I go back in the beginning of June for two months before the Olympics. I am pretty much going to be training with international paddlers from now on until the games.
JOFFE: Have you got somebody running your diary for you, sounds like a pretty full schedule.
HARTLEY: (laughter) well, I am running my own diary, so it is pretty much from month to month as the preparation carries on.
JOFFE: Bridgitte, I want to go back to Beijing, if I am not mistaken, London will be your second Olympic games. Beijing, K2500m, you reached the semi- finals, an incredible performance and obviously you have learnt so much from that experience.
HARTLEY: The Beijing Olympics will forever feel like it was a fairytale. China is completely different to the rest of the world and the way that they presented the Olympics was out of this world. I was trying to challenge for the K1 spot at the Beijing Olympics and I managed to win one but you had to win twice to get that spot. So, it was only three months before the Games that I actually jumped in a K2. I was pretty fortunate to have attended the Olympics and competed. We only just snuck into the semi-finals but it was already a huge accomplishment, not to be knocked out in the heats. So, I definitely revel in that experience and I am going to build on it towards London as well.
JOFFE: Then a year later 2009, you become the first South African canoeist to win a medal in a Sprint World Champs, a bronze, that must have given you the confidence to know that you can compete with the best in the world and medal.
HARTLEY: It definitely did. I was expecting 2009 to be a slightly easier year, hoping that all the top girls had taken a break after the Beijing Olympics. But I then realised nobody takes a break in the international world of paddling, and if you do take a break, you fall far behind, so it doesn't happen - holidays are after the World Champs. Most people just keep training and the level actually just gets bigger and better. That’s what’s so great about the sport, any sport actually, is that the standard gets raised every single year, and then we all have to match it.
JOFFE: Your daily training, what does that entail?
HARTLEY: At the moment, I’me paddling twice a day, from an hour to an hour and a half. Then the afternoon session, it’s either gym or paddling, or going for a run and paddling. Three to four hours of training a day, six days a week except Saturday afternoon, we have a rest. So it’s pretty much like a full time job at the moment.
JOFFE: Tired just thinking about it but that’s it takes to be an Olympian.
HARTLEY: Ja, but it is great, I get to be outdoors most of the time, it has its advantages, my office is outside on the water.
JOFFE: South African canoeing in general, I know the guys are very proactive, they doing as much as they possibly can with limited budget and sponsorships.
HARTLEY: Last year, they put in a really big effort to try and qualify as many boats as we could. The amount of people trying to qualify for the games last year was huge. Unfortunately, not all met the standards, so now it is just to go forward and keep everybody positive about sprinting, that it is possible to get to the top. Hopefully I can be a bit of a role model that people know that it is possible to train hard and get better and better.
JOFFE: You have been an incredible role model, you have put woman’s sprinting on the map here in South Africa. What would be your message to young girls that wanted to take up canoeing?
HARTLEY: Well, I think just to persevere. I never dreamt ten years ago that I would be competing in the Olympics. I have always been an athlete and I have always been competitive, but I have never been a top athlete in any particular sport until I took up paddling. I found the right coach as well, and I think just to stay determined, and keep persevering because eventually you are going to get that reward and if you keep your goal in sight, and you keep going for it, you will definitely achieve it.
JOFFE: Strongest competition, where is that going to come from in London?
HARTLEY: I couldn’t actually single out any girl because there is quite a strong field at the moment. I know that the Hungarian and Germans are always the dominant countries, especially out of the women in all categories. So if I had to say two countries, those two for definite, but there is also the previous gold medallist from the Ukraine who has been standing out. Also paddlers from Great Britain and Australia will be vying for those medal positions - so, I am hoping to be one of those as well.
JOFFE: Bridgitte, you’ve got the whole of South Africa behind you and we hope you go one better than you did in Beijing and medal at the Olympic Games in London.
HARTLEY: Thank you so much.
Catch Graeme Joffe on SportsFire every Monday and Thursday at 17:30 on Radio Today, 1485am in JHB, National on DStv audio channel 169 and streaming worldwide on www.1485.org.za. Follow Graeme Joffe on Twitter: @joffersmyboy
Bridgette Hartley, 28, is a South African sprint canoer who has competed since the late 2000s. She won a bronze medal in the K-1 1000 m event at the 2009 ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships in Dartmouth. Hartley became the first person from both South Africa and the African continent to medal at the ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships.
She also competed in the K-2 500 m event at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, but was eliminated in the semi-finals.
Click HERE to visit Bridgette Hartley's official website
Bridgette Hartley in action (File)