By Mark Etheridge
Not only did our canoeists win one shy of 10 medals at the recent All Africa Games in Mozambique, they also increased their Olympic qualification spots to a possible four ahead of next year’s Games in London.
The nine-strong canoe squad included three previous Olympians in the shape of Bridgitte Hartley, Shaun Rubenstein and Calvin Mokoto and added nine medals to Team South Africa’s Games winning total tally of 157.
Hartley won three gold medals (one of them with Tiffany Kruger in the K2 500 metres) and the other four golds went to Gavin White and Pieter-Wilhelm Basson (K2 1000m), Calvin Mokoto (C1 1000m), Greg Louw (K1 200m) and Shaun Rubenstein/Michael Arthur in the K2 200m. Silvers went to Nic Stubbs (K1 1000m) and Mokoto (C1 200m).
Team manager for code at the All Africa Games where canoeing was held more than 200km north of the capital Maputo, was Greg van Heerden. “The venue was idyllic, the accommodation and food was good. The course was up and ready and the only thing left to do was to show the rest of Africa just how serious were were about taking home the gold.
“While it was a great opportunity for our athletes to set the performance bar for the African continent the All Africa Games was also a chance for Africa to secure the final Olympic qualification places made available through continental qualification by the International Canoe Federation and Olympic committee.
“The Olympic qualification races were held separately to the Africa Games racing and this ensured that our athletes took the racing to another level as they battled it out with the rest of the continent for the few remaining spots.”
Before the Games Hartley had already qualified for next year’s Olympics, courtesy of winning the B Final at World Championships in Szeged, Hungary in August. After the continental qualification three more spots were added.
They were Kruger who won gold in the K1 (200m), Louw (K1 200m) and Mokoto (C1 1000m). Says Van Heerden: “This was a fantastic result for Canoeing South Africa as it enabled us to increase our Olympic qualification spots to four in total. This is an indication of the incredible progress made by our sprint team in a very short time, the majority of the sprint team having only been afforded the opportunity to focus on the Olympic sprint disciplines for the last 24 months. However they are already competing within the top 27 of the world, as indicated by their placings at the World Championships in August 2011.
“This shows a monumental effort and focus from them regarding their preparation and passion towards Olympic glory in 2012 and 2016, and their rapid progress also highlights the importance of implementing and maintaining a well-structured High Performance program to provide the athletes with optimal preparation opportunities and enable them to stand toe to toe with the best in the world.
“Our athletes now wait with bated breath for the final decision from SASCOC to endorse their participation in London 2012, but make no mistake they are not simply resting on their laurels but are already focused on their preparation with a level of excitement and passion that is tangible and visibly lifting the standard of all the athletes focused on sprinting and the Olympic dream.’
CSA General Manager Travis Wilkinson is also a happy man: “From Canoeing South Africa we are extremely excited by the potential shown by Bridgitte in posting the fastest ever 500m ladies time in Hungry. We have been expecting great things form Bridgitte and I am sure she can continue to improve and deliver a time like this when it matters most ÔÇô the final in London 2012!
“CSA are extremely satisfied with the Continental Qualifications attained by our young team members Tiffany, Calvin and Greg who will all still be vying for places at┬á the Olympics in 2016 in addition to the 2012 Olympics. Should SASCOC make these ÔÇ£boatÔÇØ places available, this would add tremendously to the momentum which we have built in sprint canoeing over the past 3 years.