Cape Town - As women's month draws to a close, South Africa's most celebrated female
sprint paddler Bridgitte Hartley completed her tenth ICF Sprint Canoeing World
Championships in Hungary, finishing with a barn-storming fourth place in the
women's 5000m K1 race.
Celebrated for her bronze medal at the London Olympic Games, Hartley has tasted
success across many different canoeing disciplines, including river marathons,
surfski racing and flatwater marathon racing.
The Richards Bay-born, Pietermaritzburg-based Hartley reflects on her career.
1. It is your first world championship - describe what Bridgitte
Hartley was like:
I was just a young bubbly, happy go lucky, eager paddler who soaked up the
incredible atmosphere of representing South Africa for the first time at a
sprinting world championships and meeting some of the fastest sprint paddlers
in the world! I even tried to take pictures with as many of them as I could
possible find! I had no worries in the world!
2. What have been the major changes in your sport in the past decade?
The boat models seem to be the constant change! The sport has been driving
towards focusing on shorter events leading into an Olympic year as well as
equality of male and female quota numbers competing on an Olympic level. The
total athlete numbers just keep growing with Szeged this month hosting the
biggest sprint world championships ever with over 100 nations competing in
3. How have you grown as a person and as an athlete in that time?
I definitely started my career as more of a carefree, clumsy young girl with
big eyes in awe of everyone around me! I have grown as a person and athlete by
learning how to set goals, make friends from other countries, and joining
training squads. I have managed to learn how to focus better during every race!
I used to wear a white trucker cap with the African continent on the front to
keep my eyes looking forward and not getting distracted by the girl racing in
the lane next to me. This enabled me to focus on my race and my race plan!
4. Your favourite venue and/or group to train with?
I love training in Hungary. I have always learnt the most and pushed my limits
on all the training camps which I have had in Hungary! My favourite group to
train with was a camp we had in November 2011 in Florida. It was a large group
of girls all training together from Denmark, Norway, Canada, Sweden, Ireland.
This was definitely one of the best five week training camps I have had with
girls who are still my friends now!
5. Your best sprint venue, and why?
Szeged, Hungary is most definitely my absolute favourite venue to sprint in! I
have competed in three world championships in Szeged in 2006, 2011 and 2019. It
was my first World Championships for SA, I won my first World Cup Olympic
distance medal there in 2009 beating the 2008 Olympic medallists. I qualified
for the London Olympics on the same race course in 2011. The Hungarians know
how to host an event of this calibre!
6. Your canoeing hero and sporting idols in any other sport?
My canoeing hero is the Hungarian Katalin Kovács. I always used to watch videos
of her paddling to help me with my technique! She is one of my all-time
favourite female athletes. My idols in another sporting disciplines are Usain
Bolt and Penny Heyns.
7. Was the London Olympic experience the pinnacle of your career or is
there another moment that trumps it?
The London Olympics will definitely be one of the best moments of my paddling
career! It's hard to describe this feeling of standing on an Olympic podium!! I
think winning a bronze medal at world championships in Moscow Russia in 2014
would be the next highlight!
8. What would you do differently if you could rewind the clock?
I am not sure I could if done anything too different as I think all the
experiences have moulded me into the athlete and person that I am today! It
would have been amazing to have had more team mates and family around me on
more training camps so it didn't become so lonely at times! I am grateful for
the career I was able to experience.
9. Most influential person on your life and paddling career?
I think the most influential person in my life and paddling career would have
to be my Coach Nandor Almasi. He taught me almost everything I know about
paddling and believed in me from being a rookie on tour to believing that I was
capable of winning an Olympic medal! He has also played a major role as being a
second father figure to me in Europe! I think he has got to know my personality
the best over the past couple of years!
10. Is there a slogan or a mantra that you use as a paddler?
I have one or two. My favourite is 'Always believe something wonderful is about
to happen' and 'Go with Love and not Fear'.
1. Favourite food: chicken and vegetables
2. Favourite drink: sparkling water
3. Favourite holiday destination: Barcelona, Spain
4. On a day off I like to: Go surfing or find a cool coffee shop to test out
5. Favourite read: Dan Carter and Penny Heyns books
6. Music preference: Indie Rock
7. TV is tuned to: I don't have a TV! It would be Hawaii 5O if I was to choose a
8. Pet hate: When someone stands almost on top of me while standing in a queue!
9. My medals are all kept: I have started to frame my best medal achievements
with pictures and the others are all in a bag! My Olympic medal lives in a
10. Next on my to-do list: There are still too many! Run the Comrades, compete
in a Sani2C, win one or two more medals for South Africa in paddling, have a