Durban – Having had a poor start to the international ICF Canoe Sprint World Cup season in Germany, South African sprint queen Bridgitte Hartley found her radar as she paddled to a respectable sixth place in the K1 Women’s 500m A-final at the second Canoe Sprint World Cup in Racice, Czech Republic over the weekend.
Hartley’s efforts in Racice were pleasing for her as she felt she was well behind the rest of the field at the opening World Cup there the week before, having to settle for a C-final.
However with just under three months until the Rio Olympic Games, Hartley’s A-final qualification at her most recent outing suggests an important upward turn in form and fortunes.
"I think I was in a bit of shock after the first World Cup to be honest," Hartley mentioned on her return to South Africa.
"I had neglected my technique in the run in to the World Cups and I realised in Duisburg that I was strong and fit enough but my technique was a problem.
"I took on some advice I was given in Germany and I adapted my technique to try and get more power going through the paddle blade in the water, which really helped me at last weekend’s World Cup in the Czech Republic.
"My efforts last week excited me and have given me the boost I needed after the disappointment of Germany."
The short, sharp schedule is another aspect that caught Hartley by surprise in Germany and while the Racice programme was similar in its intensity, Hartley felt that she was more prepared second time around and adapted better to the rigours of the truncated race schedule.
"The Europeans really know how to race quick and hard – I had my 200 metres heat and semi-final within two hours of each other," she said.
"The 200 metre is not my strongest race but despite this I knew what to expect and then I had a great semi-final in the 500 metre, which really gave me a lot of confidence.
"It was great that my Czech race plan came together so well."
Hartley has returned to South Africa for a couple of weeks as she deciphers her next move and before getting final preparations for the Olympic Games in South America in August underway.
"I am still trying to figure out what is going my best final approach but I knew that staying in Europe now wasn’t going to give me the best preparation," Hartley added.
"I am trying to get myself back into top shape here at home before I head back overseas in a few weeks’ time and have been having physiotherapy on a tight shoulder as well as spending time in the gym, further strengthening the right muscles and making a few small improvements before I make a decision in the coming weeks."
Hartley has come a long way over these last two weeks and, with a devastating opening World Cup well behind her, she has chosen to look at one race in particular from Racice as motivation going into her final furlong into Rio.
"The semi-final last weekend is definitely a race that I am going to want to mimic and I know that if I do, it will stand me in good stead against the best in the world," she said.
"I am mentally in a much better place now than I was ten days ago and I know that if I can work on improving my times and speed in the first 250 metres then I will be in a good position.
"A race is won over the full 500 metres and if I am to put together a full 500 metre performance then it is vital that I get those first 250 metres in sync with my second 250 metres."
Esti van Tonder and Stuart Bristow were the only other South Africans racing in Racice with Van Tonder finishing eighth in the Women's K1 200m B Final and then second in the Women's K1 500m C Final. Bristow ended seventh in the Men's K1 1000m heat.