02 Apr, 2013

Paddling Power

Paddling Power

With the London Olympics done and dusted, South African paddler Bridgette Hartley says it is all still sinking in as she is feted all over South Africa following her third-place finish in the K1 Kayak 500m sprint women’s final. Starting as one of the top seeds, Bridgette crossed the line in 1:52.923, behind gold medallist Danuta Kozak of Hungary (1:51.456) and Ukrainian Inna Osypenko-Radomska (1:52.685). “I remember the World Champs in Poland in May and the first to sixth placings were just seconds apart, so I knew it was going to be close in London. I just remember hearing beep, beep, beep at the finish!"


Having finished, she was unsure about her final placing, looking up at the scoreboard, hoping for ‘South Africa’ to blink in the top three. “I was excited when I finished, but I had to calm down before I knew about a medal position for sure. I sensed my bronze, but thought there might be a photo-finish, and then finally I saw it, and my coach was in front of me and it was so cool to experience it. My parents and my step-dad were also there to celebrate it with me, and it was my best moment as an athlete!”


Gracious and humble, Bridgette says she had always hoped for a medal in the Games, but never expected one. She was in good shape, though, and explains how she “put her head down” and raced well in her qualifying heats and the semi-final. “In the final, I was nervous but I had a race plan to focus on. I did not want to be distracted by medals and even though I probably only got four hours of sleep the night before, I was going into it with confidence.” Still, she says watching the race now still brings back all the emotion of that day. “I get nervous all over again!”



In the build-up to London, Bridgette paddled twice a day and went to gym four times a week, as well as doing morning swims, yoga and Pilates, training a total of three to four hours a day, but she says her running was the foundation for her success. She would do two main running sessions a week, fitting in 8km to 10km and focussing on hills for strength, as well as shorter sprint and speed work sessions when an event was around the corner. “Running helps me a lot, as you need all-round endurance, and I’d only rest one day a week and cross-train to get fitness up. As a top athlete, that’s your life.”


She also keeps strict tabs on her diet, focusing on chicken fruit and veggies. “Your body needs to feel right and if you don’t eat well, it will also affect your recovery,” she says. “But balance in important, so I still sometimes indulge in a bit of chocolate…”



With London 2012 behind her, Bridgette says her next big goal will be the 2013 World Champs in May. “It’s short-term goals at the moment, and I want to enjoy a holiday before it’s on to a new training season.” She also says that her bronze-winning performance has already generated a great responses from youngsters who are now inspired to get into paddling. “I hope, too, that I’ve inspired women, and I hope that it gives room for us to develop athletes for the future.”