South African paddlers shine in Europe

11 August 2014

South African paddlers shone in Europe on the weekend, with sprint star Bridgitte Hartley repeating her London Olympics bronze medal effort at the World Championships in Moscow, and the country’s river racers grabbing two podium places, including a win, at the legendary Sella Descent in Spain.

Hartley came into the Sprint World Champs in Moscow after having had her season disrupted by illness. However, she showed her class and tactical acumen by racing well into the women’s 500m A final. She then used her trademark surge over the final 250 metres to clinch the bronze medal behind Hungarian ace Danuta Kozak and New Zealander Lisa Carrington.

A member of the Sascoc Opex support programme for leading athletes, Hartley was elated to make it onto the podium, particularly as she had been concerned about her health.

‘I just had to push through’

“It felt like I was getting a temperature when I was warming up,” she said after the race. “I told myself that it didn’t matter if I got sick, I just had to push through to my last final. It probably helped that I wasn’t putting pressure on myself to get a medal actually.

“I was just trying to have a race that didn’t have any flaws,” she explained. “I just wanted to concentrate on making every stroke count, counting every stroke and making sure each one was powerful.

“Going into the last 20 strokes, I felt that I was in the mix and I just concentrated on taking it all the way to the line.

“When I crossed the line, I thought Germany had got the third, and even when I was called to boat weigh-in I wasn’t sure. Then I was told that I had to be ready for the medal ceremony in 10 minutes. That’s when I knew!” she rejoiced.

Confidence boost

Hartley said the medal had given her a major confidence boost because she has made numerous changes to her training regime, and was now working closely with Craig Mustard in Pietermaritzburg.

“I have been challenging myself more, which has helped a lot,” she said. “Working with a team of a coach, dietician and a sport psychologist, and Craig (Mustard) working with me on the water has definitely made a difference.”

“I think I was also happier going into this World Champs having someone with me who was South African, and not being on this massive European continent all by myself and spending all my weekends alone.

“I was really down after my World Cups, but I am really enjoying my training a lot more now and things are going a lot better. I know I haven’t hit my best form yet and I can’t get complacent because there is still a lot of work to do in the next years,” Hartley added.

Other World Champs results

Later in the day, Hartley added a solid seventh in the women’s 200m K1 final to wrap up an excellent weekend for the South African team.

Under-23 speedster Crisjan Coetzee raced into the 200m K1 C final in his first senior world championship outing, while the crew of Ali Glass and Ant Collopy also did well, making the 1000m C final.

Para-canoeist Jono Wing also made a big impression, but was denied a shot at a final by a heavily loaded heat that saw him just miss out in his 200m K1 LTA category.

Sella Descent successes

Meanwhile, on Saturday, South African paddlers powered to podium finishes in the men’s and women’s K2 races at the 78th Sella Descent in Spain, with Andy Birkett and Greg Louw finishing third overall, while Abby Adie and her partner Laura O’Donaghue scored a shockingly convincing win in the women’s race.

Birkett and Louw, who were using the race as part of their preparations for the upcoming World Marathon Championships in Oklahoma City next month, got their tactics rights after an excellent start that saw the contenders whittled down to a fast six-boat bunch.

‘We are stoked’

“We managed to get into the right place in the ends-print and just stayed on the right of the two Spanish crews, because we knew that those two Spanish boats were going to trying to kill each other. We are stoked, over the moon,” four-time Dusi Canoe Marathon champion Birkett said after the race.

“I don’t think we expected this, but it is nice to take something like this to the World Marathon Champs and to have raced against those two (Spanish) boats that everyone is trying to hang with,” he added.

Women’s race victory

The victory in the women’s race was a nervy one for Adie and O’Donaghue after they managed to get clear of the other fancied women’s crews in the mayhem at the start because they were never sure where their challengers were in the massive field of paddlers on the small river.

“We were seeded 311th, which wasn’t too bad, and we got such a good start that were able to get away from the other women until the first corner where there were quite a few pile ups and things got quite chaotic. But we managed to stay clear of all that mayhem and carnage and that set us up for the rest of the race,” said Adie.

“We were expecting the top women to come past us at some stage, so we just put our heads down.

“There are so many people, it is quite hard to spot where the other women were in the big bunches. They finished about two-and-a-half minutes behind us in the end,” she explained.

World Marathon Championships preparation

Like Birkett and Louw, the value of the podium outcome lies in the pair’s preparations for their K2 challenge at the World Marathon Championships in Oklahoma City in September.

“We are both over the moon with the result, so happy,” said Adie, who, like Birkett, last month won the tough four-day Berg River Canoe Marathon title in the Western Cape.

Dusi champion Robyn Kime finished sixth in the women’s K1 race. “It felt great to be back in a boat. The Sella is just crazy,” tweeted Kime, who had been taking a break from her paddling in recent months.

SAinfo reporter