In-form Bridgitte Hartley leads the South African team into action at this weekend’s third and final World Cup canoeing regatta in Szeged, Hungary.
The iconic sprint course is often referred to as the ‘home’ of sprinting, the venue being well known for its passionate supporters and carnival atmosphere. Obviously the South African team will be hoping this translates into meaningful results.
Hartley has won bronze medals in the K1 1000m discipline in both previous World Cups in the Czech Republic and Poland and will be South Africa’s best hope for podium positions.
She will also have taken plenty of confidence from a gold in the K1 5000m in Racice, and bronze in the same event in Poznan where her powerful endsprint saw her claim the final podium position. But in this weekend’s regatta there are no 5000m events, and athletes will have to adjust to the shorter 200m sprint.
Beijing Olympic 500m finalist Jen Hodson is┬á taking time away from competitive canoeing, so SA hopes in the women’s category will also be carried by fellow Olympian Carol Joyce, who is entered in the K1 1000m and 500m races. Joyce had a solid return to international racing two weeks ago in Poznan, finishing ninth in the K1 5000m.
One of the most eagerly anticipated races over the weekend will be the men’s K2 500m race, where Olympic sprinter Shaun Rubenstein is teaming up with fellow powerhouse Mike Arthur. The combination has had limited training time together, but there’s widespread excitement about their potential as they were individually outstanding in the national regattas. ÔÇ£Mike has been following my technique really well and the boat feels very smooth,ÔÇØ said Rubenstein this week from the team’s training camp in Budapest.
The Szeged course holds a special place for the national champion, as it was the venue for his first World Cup medal ÔÇô a bronze two years ago in the K1 500m. Rubenstein will also be hoping for success in his more familiar K1 events.
Another team boat showing potential is that of World Marathon Champion Cam Schoeman and fellow Under-21 partner Stu Waterworth. The pair will be racing in all three distances ÔÇô the K2 200m, 500m and 1000m ÔÇô and be hoping to make the A-Finals. With youth on their side, the weekend will be another invaluable step in their development on the Canoeing South Africa High Performance Programme, which is being funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund.
Mike Arthur will complete the K4 boat for the 1000m along with Greg Louw, Len Jenkins and Nick Stubbs, and amongst tough competition the focus for the crew will primarily be on race experience. Nic Burden will replace Arthur for the K4 200m, and will also compete in the K1 200m alongside Louw.
The sprint team comes off the back of a good camp at the familiar MTK and Csepel clubs in Hungary. The Szeged World Cup will be their final opportunity for international racing ahead of the 2009 World Championships, which are being staged from August 12-16 in Dartmouth, Canada.
All heats take place on Friday 5 June, with semi-finals and 1000m finals on Saturday, and 500m and 200m finals on Sunday.