South African sprint canoeing sensation Bridgitte Hartley carried her excellent local form through to the opening Sprint World Cup of the year by winning a gold and two bronze medals against top international competition.
Hartley was the only South African taking part in the Czech World Cup, in Racice with the rest of the national squad opting to continue their training regimes at home. She immediately hit her strides at the regatta, winning both her K1 500m and K1 1000m heats on Friday and hence qualifying automatically for the A-Finals.
In improving weather conditions, the 1,000m finals took place on Saturday where Hartley was drawn in the centre lane five. From a good start, she managed to hold her early third position through the markers and crossed the line in a time of 4min 16.648sec, just five seconds behind race winner Malgorzata Chojnacka from Poland. The step up into the international cauldron was a big one, with Hartley admitting, ‘I was reminded again that international competition is tough, but I was very happy with my third place and bronze medal.’
On Sunday morning she was back behind the starting block of lane five for the Olympic-distance K1 500m A-Final. A tough start saw Hartley pass the halfway 250m marker in seventh place, but digging deep she kicked well to push her through the finish line in a close third place, securing her second bronze. ‘ I was more focused and a little less stressed after racing a few times and managed to concentrate better on my own race,’┬á said Hartley afterwards. Japanese sprinter Shinobu Kitamoto took the gold ahead of Denmark’s Henriette Engel-Hansen.
Twenty-five women set off for the longer distance K1 5,000m race on Sunday afternoon. A fast start saw a bunch of four paddlers, including the South African, pull away together to share the workload. The end-sprint was inevitable but Hartley managed to draw on all her reserves to win the coveted gold medal only a tenth of a second ahead of Maryna Paltaran from Belarus.
Hartley is part of the South African High Performance Squad that Canoeing South Africa has selected with the ultimate goal of winning medals at the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the generous funding from the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund and more performances of this nature, we may well be seeing the first South African paddlers standing on the next Olympic podiums.
Hartley has now returned to Budapest for training until the next World Cup, which takes place in Poznan, Poland on May 22-24 and will be represented by the full South African sprint squad.
K1 Women 1000m
1. Malgorzata Chojnacka (POL) 4:11.376
2. Henriette Engel-Hansen (DEN) 4:13.805
3. Bridgitte Hartley (SA) 4:16.648
K1 Women 500m
1. Shinobu Kitamoto (JPN) 1:51.943
2. Henriette Engel-Hansen (DEN) 1:51.986
3. Bridgitte Hartley (SA) 1:52.716
K1 Women 5000m
1. Bridgitte Hartley (SA) 20:10.1
2. Maryna Paltaran (BLR) 20:10.2
3. Ana Roxana Lehaci (AUT) 20:10.5