By Mark Etheridge
The difference between the Duisberg and Racice World Cups is like that between fire and ice for 2012 Olympic bronze medallist canoeist Bridgitte Hartley.
The opening leg of the World Cup season in Duisberg saw Hartley on something of a downer after having to settle for a spot in the K1 500m-metre C Final.
It was something of an eye-opener for the KwaZulu-Natal paddler but also a reminder that an Olympic year takes no prisoner.
But grit and grind are traits that Hartley possesses in abundance and there was a big revival in Racice, Czech Republic as the World Cup season moved on.
On this occasion she made the A-Final and placed a handy sixth spot.
Now it’s back to her roots as she returned home this week to plot her next plans as the Rio Olympics thunder ever closer.
She told Road to Rio 2016: ‘I’m very happy to have had such a big improvement in the World Cup. OK, two big names were not racing but a few more countries were added to World Cup 2 that didn’t compete at World Cup 1.
‘The A-Final had some different faces but the B-Final was also jam packed with some fast paddlers.
‘The head wind conditions played in my favour as it always does. I managed to have a great semi-final which placed me into that important A-Final.
‘My final was a good race but I didn’t get as a good boat run like in my semi.’
There was also encouraging signs that the blonde bullet is fast approaching the form she knows she’s capable of. ‘
‘The 6th place finish was great and also I got the fastest second 250m split!’
The second week’s racing has also given her an opportunity for further analysis under red-hot racing conditions.
‘I’m excited to build on this performance as I feel with some extra technique guidance now from my old coach and knowing where my weak points in my race are I can aim for a better race by August.’
She also has the luxury of being able to soak up advice from so many different sources. ‘Actually Nandor Almasi [former coach] was at the first competition in Germany so he first spotted my mistake and then I had recalled the same advice from coach Thiago Oliviera Borges from Brazil who then gave me some drills to work on trying to start fixing my technique.’
While back in SA, Hartley will have some much-needed physiotherapy on a stiff shoulder as she sorts her schedule.
The only other South Africans canoeing in the Czech Republic were Esti van Tonder who took eighth spot in the K1 200m B-Final and a runners-up spot in the K1 500m C final while Bristow took seventh spot in is K1 1000m heat.
Picture of Hartley courtesy of Anthony Grote