While necessary and compulsory, the wearing of face masks hasn’t made it easy picking out people you haven’t seen in a while, writes GARY LEMKE.
Which also tends to lead to erring on the side of caution, in many cases walking past them in the Olympic village without stopping them for fear of being wrong.
Still, behind the mask there is something unmistakeable about Bridgitte Hartley. Given the fact she is not competing at Tokyo 2020, I wasn’t expecting to bump into her in Tokyo. But, wasn’t it her heading in the direction of Team SA apartment tower today?
It sure was Hartley, South Africa’s Olympic medallist from the London 2012 Games, but a sportswoman who has carried a torch for canoeing, especially amongst women, for over a decade.
When the Tokyo Olympic squad was announced I was surprised she hadn’t made the final cut. But that’s a discussion for another time.
Hartley, who recently turned 38, is in Tokyo where she is on the list of 30 nominees who will contest four spots onto the IOC’s Athletes Commission. The voting is open to all accredited athletes at these Games, with the secret ballot being conducted at the Athlete 365 Space in the village’s dining hall and closing date 3 August.
The four elected members will replace IOC Athletes’ Commission chairperson Kirsty Coventry from Zimbabwe, Australia’s James Tomkins, France’s Tony Estanguet and Sweden’s Stefan Holm.
Hartley spoke passionately about her role as deputy chairperson on the South African (SASCOC’s) Athletes Commission and why she has thrown her hat in the ring for the IOC Athletes Commission post.
“Sport has been so good to me over so many years. I’ve been blessed to have travelled the world and met so many wonderful people. I’m as passionate as I ever was but I suppose I’m at the age where I now feel that I want to give something back to sport.”
Hartley is up against it in the voting, given that as a South African her voting “audience” is not as wide as others from bigger countries and who can probably count on “patriotic” support. But she knows that she won’t let anyone down and in fact can only make a positive difference.
“Look at Kirsty, the outgoing chairperson. She’s from Zimbabwe but has done an amazing job. How long have you got for me to take through the number of positive, beneficial and ground-breaking initiatives that she has introduced?
“I honestly believe that it’s of vital importance for the Athletes Commission to have African representation. There are five Olympic rings, each one representing a continent. So, how can Africa be left out? And I’ve been to three Olympics’ as a competitor and the Olympics have been part of my life for so many years. I’ve also been African champion and have experienced sport from an ‘African perspective’. I feel I am in a unique position to advance the African cause, in that I can communicate on the behalf of African athletes and help address the undeniable difficulties that affect them in the international arenas.
“But my experience isn’t limited to ‘Africa’. I have trained with countries like Austria, Hungart, Great Britain, Sweden and Norway and become friends with Olympians from all over the world. I am familiar with their experiences which also helps me to have a broad wealth of knowledge relating to athletes from all corners of the globe.”
Hartley has never given anything less than 100 percent commitment to her sport and remains a bundle of energy and ambition. She believes – and those voting for her share the sentiment – that she can truly be a voice for African athletes and points to the positive and applauded role that Coventry brought to her post.
She’s got extensive international experience and has now reached the juncture where she feels her input can help turn “small things” into “big opportunities and progression”. There’s an enthusiasm and fire which isn’t going to be doused any time soon.
Her immediate future is in the hands of the Olympic athletes competing in Tokyo. Given the size of South Africa compared to nations like Great Britain, the USA and Australia, athletes’ votes count and patriotism comes through. Her fellow South Africans have been hugely supportive, but Hartley is popular beyond her own country’s borders. The odds seem to be stacked against her, but she’s battled against the odds most of her career – and come out on top.
Other Tokyo 2020 columns by Gary Lemke