Johannesburg - Silverware will be an added bonus for Olympic bronze-medal canoeist Bridgitte Hartley as she paddles for a qualifying spot for next year’s Olympic Games at the 2015 ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships in Milan.
Hartley made history at last year’s championships, winning South Africa’s first medal in an Olympic event with her bronze in the K-1 500m.
To claim a crucial spot for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games she will have to finish among the top-eight paddlers in Milan.
“The aim is the top-eight which is a direct Olympic qualification, so I just have to take it one step at a time and to make the A-final means you have a shot of qualifying,” Hartley told Sport24 ahead of her first race on Thursday.
“Thursday is pretty much a big day for me because I will have my heats in the morning and the semi-final in the afternoon.
“That is almost the most important race of the week because you can then reset.”
Hartley had a short European sojourn this season where she paddled in the first two World Cup events in May.
At the first regatta in Portugal, Hartley finished sixth overall in the K-1 500m and 14th overall in the K-1 200m.
Five days later in Germany against a larger field she finished ninth place overall in the K-1 500m with an 11th place in the shorter sprint.
“I never managed to win any medals in May but at the same time I feel I’ve had a lot of gains since then which is important as you know you’ve gone faster,” she said.
“It is a confidence boost already just to be in the finals consistently at the World Cups in May when you are racing against the best in the world.”
Hartley was confident she had done enough in her build-up to the world championships where she will also be racing in the K1 200m.
“So far so good but it is always difficult to judge when you haven’t raced since May this year where everybody makes gains and improves,” she said.
“I’d like to think I’ve made improvements and I believed I am as prepared as I can be at this stage.”
Although the K1 200m is not her favoured event she will still attempt to qualify the boat for the Rio Olympics.
South Africa’s campaign will kick-off on Wednesday with three para-canoeing races as Jono Wing, Graham Paull and Stuart Hogg take to the water on the opening day.
Thursday will be a big day for the contingent with Hartley spearheading the charge in the K1 500 while C-boat paddlers Hosea Seleka and Phillemon Mahame racing in the men’s 500m C2 heats.
The duo will also be racing in the C1 1000m and C1 200m heats respectively with Louis Hattingh also paddling in the K1 1000m before joining up with Gabriel van Wyk for the men’s K2 200m.
London Olympian Tiffany Kruger and Esti van Tonder will be the final boat in the heats where they will be paddling in the women’s K2 500m heats.