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Shaun, Bridgitte tops

South Africa’s fastest paddlers rose to the surface over a┬átitanic weekend of sprint canoeing at the SA Sprint Trials at Nagle Dam in KwaZulu-Natal.

In perfect calm and sunny conditions, Beijing Olympians Shaun Rubenstein and Bridgitte Hartley were the stand-out performers, and will be hoping to replicate their form on the international stage over the coming months.

Rubenstein and Hartley have dedicated their careers to the sprint┬ádiscipline, and to the specialised training regimes that go with it. Their┬ásuperior conditioning saw them edge out some of South Africa’s most talented┬ápaddlers to win the prestigious 1,000m and 500m events.

Rubenstein eased through the heats on Saturday to claim the coveted lane four┬áfor the finals on Sunday. His showdown with 20-year-old Cam Schoeman was┬ámuch anticipated, and the racing didn’t disappoint. In the K1 1,000m final,┬áRubenstein took the gold almost three seconds ahead of Schoeman in a time of┬á3min 34.73sec, with Mike Arthur winning bronze a further two and a half seconds┬áback.

The 500m final was even tighter, with Rubenstein and Arthur neck and neck until the final hundred metres, where the Gauteng paddler pulled away from Arthur to win by 0.9 of a second. Arthur finally got some reward by narrowly pipping Rubenstein by just 0.01s in the 200m final, with Eastern Cape paddler Greg Louw racing above himself to take the final podium position.

The women’s racing looked set to be dominated by three Olympians, and┬áBridgitte Hartley, Jen Hodson and Carol Joyce proved to be much stronger┬áthan the rest of the field. Hodson and Joyce have recently focused more of┬átheir attention on river paddling though, and Hartley took advantage in all┬áthree events. Her face-off with Hodson in the showcase K1 500m final saw her┬áedge her rival by three seconds, while she convincingly won the K1 1,000m ahead┬áof Joyce, and was 0.2sec ahead of Hodson in the 200m. Hartley has shown┬ásignificant improvement over the last year in particular, which culminated┬áin a gold medal in the K1 1,000m at the Poland World Cup last year. She is
rapidly raising the country’s expectations and will be one to watch in the┬álead-up to London 2012.

One of the most encouraging aspects of the Trial was the strong junior entry┬áand high standard of racing. KZN girls Under-16 star Emma Horner took top honours┬áin the U18 1000m and 500m races, beating girls a few years older than┬áherself in the process. The top four positions were the same across both┬áevents, with Melanie van Niekerk from the Western Cape falling just short on┬áboth events. Gauteng’s Esti van Tonder and KZN’s Kerry Segal were third and┬áfourth.

The boy’s Under-18 racing threw up somewhat of a surprise in the 500m race as┬áChristian Coetzee claimed the gold in an extremely close finish, where┬áthe top four were separated by only 0.39 of a second. Martin van den Bergh┬áwon silver, although he had earlier claimed the 1,000m gold in another┬áclose race. Frans Smit was third in both Finals, with Stu MacLaren taking┬ásilver in the 1,000m.

The national team will be announced on Wednesday, with the first team assignment the Poland World Cup toward the end of May, followed by the Hungary World Cup in June and the Junior and Under-23 Ruhr Regatta in Bochum.

Next weekend sees the country’s top sprinters return to Nagle Dam for the SA┬áSprint Championships.

Summary of Results:

Men’s 1,000m
1. Shaun Rubenstein 3:34.93
2. Cam Schoeman 3:37.80
3. Mike Arthur 3:40.30

Women’s 1,000m
1. Bridgitte Hartley 4:02.39
2. Carol Joyce 4:08.81
3. Jen Hodson 4:09.36

U18 Boys 1,000m
1. Martin van den Bergh 3:46.83
2. Stu MacLaren 3:47.88
3. Frans Smit 3:48.05

U18 Girls 1,000m
1. Emma Horner 4:20.06
2. Melanie van Niekerk 4:23.29
3. Esti van Tonder 4:24.16

Men’s 500m
1. Shaun Rubenstein 1:38.33
2. Mike Arthur 1:39.28
3. Cam Schoeman 1:40.92

Women’s 500m
1. Bridgitte Hartley 1:50.90
2. Jen Hodson 1:53.90
3. Carol Joyce 2:02.30

U18 Boys 500m
1. Christian Coetzee 1:46.00
2. Martin van den Bergh 1:46.10
3. Frans Smit 1:46.16

U18 Girls 500m
1. Emma Horner 1:59.28
2. Melanie van Niekerk 2:00.02
3. Esti van Tonder 2:01.63

Men’s 200m
1. Mike Arthur 00:35.53
2. Shaun Rubenstein 00:35.54
3. Greg Louw 00:36.70

Women’s 200m
1. Bridgitte Hartley 00:42.73
2. Jen Hodson 00:42.98
3. Carol Joyce 00:48.16