By Mark Etheridge
A year out from the Rio Olympics and canoeing’s 2012 Olympics bronze medallist Bridgitte Hartley can already see the increased participation and sense the anticipation.
Hartley is one of 12 South Africans in action at the Canoe World Sprint Championships that get underway in Milan, Italy on Wednesday.
Third in the world over the K1 500-metre event in London three years ago, Hartley will now be looking to nail down her qualifying spot at Worlds, the premier qualification event for the Rio Olympics next year.
‘This is always the biggest world championships in a four-year cycle and everyone is competing to get a qualifying spot for their country,’ she tells Road to Rio 2016 from Italy. ‘And there are many countries who used have small teams but now have full teams all training together on camps regularly. The level has definitely been raised!’
But so too has Hartley’s level of effort increased. ‘I’ve improved my gym work and my overall gym strength as I have been working with a biokineticist for the past two years through the EADP Programme (Elite Athlete Development Programme) and our canoeing club, Natal Canoe Club in Pietermaritzburg.
‘I feel this has improved my paddling but at this level the gains are always small and outdoor conditions don’t mean personal bests even if we are stronger and faster.
‘It seems like my year has been consistent in the build-up so I am feeling confident but it’s all about racing well when it counts over the next few days as there are many fast girls here.’
Hartley’s racing starts off on Thursday morning when she lines up in the third of six K1 500m heats. Wednesday will be the turn of the para-paddlers (and SA has three competitors in the team) trying to book their spots at the Rio Paralympics.