By Mark Etheridge
Bridgitte Hartley may be our main medal hope in the canoeing code at the London Olympics later this yearÔÇª but in her wake will be a fellow KwaZulu-Natalian with her eyes on a medal further down the watery road.
Unlike Hartley young Tiffany Kruger, 24,┬á didn’t qualify for the Olympics at the 2011 World sprint championships in Szeged, Hungary last year. Her opportunity came a bit later at the All Africa Games in Mozambique where she won the 200-metre K1 Olympic continental qualifier.
Her only chance to make Team South Africa though would lie in Canoe South Africa and the country’s Olympic governing body SASCOC recognising her potential for future international stardom.
“I dedicated this year purely to canoeing with the hope that SASCOC would use my position and luckily they did, in the light of the fact that I’m still young and new to sprint canoeing,” Kruger told Road to London 2012.
“They have hopes that I’ll use these Olympics for experience and be a medal contender for 2016 as Bridge [Hartley] did with the Beijing Olympics,” says Kruger.
Like Hartley, whose main event is the 500m, she was in action at last weekend’s World Cup 1 event in Poznan, Poland where she’s currently spending time on a talent identification programme staged by the International Canoe Federation (ICF).
“I raced both the 500m and the 200m events to give me more experience ÔÇô the more I can get, the better. I made the semi-final in both events and my racing seemed to improve with each race. In London I will be racing the 200m event. I hope to make a Final at London even if it is a B-Final. I will be using these Olympics as experience with the build-up to 2016. The 200m event is always very close racing and anything is possible.”
She’ll be in action again at this weekend’s World Cup 2 event┬á in Duisberg, Germany before staying on in Bochum for another two weeks and then returning home to hone her preparations. “I’m extremely excited to have qualified for the Olympic Games as it has always been a dream of mine ÔÇô and I’m sure a dream for any athlete ÔÇô as it is the most prestigious event for any sportsman. I’m training really hard and I hope my training is enough to produce some good results.”
A qualified teacher, she plans to relocate to Pietermaritzburg to gain optimal training with her coach Attila Adrovicz for the next four years leading up to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and the 2016 Games.
“There’s a good training group there at the moment and being trained by my coach on a daily basis is very important. I’ve recently moved from Amanzimtoti Canoe Club and joined Natal Canoe Club in Pietermaritzburg although ‘Toti will always be my home and where my heart is.”
It was in ‘Toti that she first made a name for herself in watersports. “I come from a background of lifesaving and surf ski paddling ÔÇô the transition into sprinting was a hard choice but I wanted to go to the Olympics and sprint canoeing is the only sport which is an Olympic discipline.
Also, both lifesaving and surf ski paddling involve a lot of luck and there are many factors that can prevent you from winning even if you are the best. With sprints the person who has trained the hardest and who has the best time is guaranteed to win.
Kruger has only been sprinting for three years now and the level of training has increased along with the conversion to the sprints. “The level of my training has increased quite a bit since the qualification and has become more specific to my distance of 200m. My gym and strength training have increased as well.
“Towards the end of last year I took three months off due to a shoulder injury, where I worked with many physiotherapists, doctors and specialists to fix the problem. Many of these treatments were unsuccessful until I found a chiropractor, Natalie Robertson, who works at the King’s Park Sports Medicine Centre and she has helped me tremendously.
“I then started paddling again in January. Coming out of an injury is very difficult although it helped to motivate me on another level. My base training this year has not been what I would have liked it to be but I’m pushing myself as hard as ever knowing I have to catch up.”
The only other injury she’s had was prior to her sprinting career where she fractured three of her ribs.
In terms of competitions, she’s still relatively new to the sprint scene. “I’ve done four World Cups now including Poznan this year although Poznan was my first time racing K1. My favorite venue would have to be Szeged, Hungary as the atmosphere is amazing ÔÇô it seems that Hungary is the canoeing capital of the world and this brings the crowds to the venue.”
But it’s not all about life in the spotlight for Kruger. “I must say my life at the moment is a little nomadic. I still live with my parents in Toti but also spend a lot of time in Durban with my boyfriend and some weeks in Pietermaritzburg for training. I’ve been travelling quite a bit and living out of a bag has become the norm.”
All a small price to pay if she bags a medal in Rio four years down the line.