By Mark Etheridge
Beaten but by no means broken, canoeist Bridgitte Hartley lives to fight another day after missing out on the final of the women’s K1 500m sprint event at the Olympics on Wednesday.
The London Olympics bronze medal-winner in this event, she ended sixth in her semi-final here, failing to go through and then ended eighth and last in Thursday’s B final.
She had a few injury niggles going into her event but refused to use that as an excuse for failing to reach the final. ‘I wasn’t going to race the 200 earlier in the week but the heats and semi’s gave me some confidence so I was excited to race the 500m, not quite as nervous.
‘I had a neck spasm the night before so was a bit stressed but as athletes we all have challenges and niggles so it didn’t get me down too much. I warmed up and in my heat I didn’t get my boat running nicely off the start but towards the end it started felling really good so I thought “that’s cool” … was coming in third and didn’t wanna kill myself.
‘The German girl took it easy in the heat and hey she won her semi-final by so far yet she was only fourth in the heat.’
She got to thinking more than normal before her semi. ‘It was so strange – I raced the Hungarian girl in the heat just like in London four years ago. Here I had a headwind which is usually my favourite and tried to relax but I was more nervous than normal… I just struggled to get that boat run again.
‘I know how it felt in the 200 and it charged through the water but I just wasn’t getting that in the semi – but I must say I was fighting all way and didn’t give up till I hit the finish line but I think the boatrun only came through in the last 100m or so.’
She still can’t hide the letdown of not making the final.
‘Yes, there’s no doubting that I feel extremely disappointed. Coming off London four years ago and now not even being able to challenge for a medal.. that’s the hardest part – not being in the A final.. it’s a hard pill to swallow.’
And what does the future hold for the Pietermaritzburg powerhouse. ‘Well I said that after these games if I got a medal then I’d need a rest and take time off and absorb the moment and what I’ve achieved.
A ‘veteran’ of the SA canoeing scene, Hartley celebrated her 33rd birthday last month.
’After all it is my third Olympics… and I’ve reminded myself that I have achieved a lot. And of course I still have my medal – no-one can take that away but I kind of just know I can’t challenge for another one
‘So maybe there’s marathon worlds in a month’s time but that will be in a K2 and up to my federation if they allowed to compete. After London I thought I had another six years and then started saying that after Rio I’m done.
‘But still in the back of my head there’s a potential partnership with young Donna Hutton who came seventh at world junior champs and if we combined in the 200/500 we’d have a sprinting season together.’
Indeed one can sense that there’s still a hunger in Hartley.
‘Oh yes, that fire is still burning. I’m an athlete and I compete.. I can’t just say to myself that I’ve cooked myself and aren’t strong enough… I’ll just take this in my stride and see what else I can achieve…’
Picture of Hartley courtesy of Wessel Oosthuizen/SASPA