By Mark Etheridge
Sixth in the K1 500m A final in Portugal last week, canoeist Bridgitte Hartley will be particularly pleased with her opening day’s form in Sprint World Cup 2 in Duisberg, Germany on Friday.
Last week’s action saw 29 countries in action but this week paddlers have to dig a whole lot deeper with 49 countries in the fray.
The 2012 Olympic bronze medallist had been hampered by a niggly shoulder injury in Portugal but stormed through her morning heats with a comfortable second spot in Heat Four of five. The heat may have been the slowest of the event but that meant she would have been able to conserve some valuable energy on a brutal day of racing.
Her time was 1min 55.061sec compared to Canadia winner Michelle Russell’s 1:54.321.
That put her directly into the semi-final where she was again second, in her season-best’s 1:51.031 behind Kiwi Lisa Carrington (1:50.199).
But her racing wasn’t done for the day as she still had to contend with the 200m dash. But again, the blonde KwaZulu-Natal powerhouse was up for the occasion, ending third (44.312) behind Uzbekistan’s Ivana Kmetova (43.403) and Olga Umaralieva of Slovakia (43.403) in the third of four heats. Once again that meant route one into the semi-finals.
A weary Hartley found a few seconds to take Road to Rio 2016 through day one of the torture-fest. ‘It was a good day for me but I’m quite tired now as it was a long day with three hard races ending at 6.10pm.
‘I changed my race plan slightly from the last World Cup, I tested it in the heat of 500m this morning which went well but knew I had to have a very good race in the semi to make to top two, and advance to A-Finals. I went out much harder and was worried I might die but my race really came together and I hung onto Lisa all the way to the end.
‘I’m very happy with my races today as this World Cup is harder with five heats!’
The other South Africans in action on Friday were Louis Hattingh and Chrisjan Coetzee.
Hattingh failed to progress to the semi-finals while Coetzee went through to the semis in the K1 200m. The former clocked 3:38.438 to end seventh in the sixth and final K1 1000m heat. He needed top six for a semi-final slot.
Coetzee went off in the seventh and final of his event and took fifth spot in 37.665.
South African team manager and national sprint manager Craig Mustard summed up the day’s performances for Road to Rio 2016 and he was by and large a happy man.
‘The day’s racing did not start off to well with Louis only managing 7th in a very fast heat. It’s hard to see other paddlers qualify in other heats that are way easier and slower times but that is just the luck of the draw. Some times it’s good and sometimes it’s bad.
‘I’m very happy with Louis’ times and we are ahead of our goals that we are building towards the U23 world championships later this year in Portugal ‘Racing at this level and against so many countries is something we cannot duplicate back in SA so that’s why we need to race in Europe as much as possible.’
Moving on to Hartley and Mustard’s enthusiasm was as keen as ever. ‘Bridgitte was at her best today and raced like a machine, it was a really tough semi-final with a tough progression but Bridgitte showed her big game temperament and years of international racing experience and qualified for the A final.
‘She then also had a very strong 200m heat which she finished third in to qualify for semi finals. Chrisjan had a very good 200m heat. He is in the biggest and toughest event this weekend with close on 60 paddlers competing for just nine places.
‘I’m very impressed with today’s performance from the team. These are world championships standards that they are experiencing so it’s great to see how the athletes are doing against the rest of the world with 13 weeks still to go to the Olympic qualifications.
‘Saturday will be a very long day of racing with the last race of the day being run just before 7pm.’
Picture of Hartley was taken by Louis Hattingh