We catch up with Bridgette Hartley during her break after the Olympics
Bridgette is best known for her SPRINT success :
- 2008 Represent SA at the Beijing Olympics K2 500m with Michelle Eray
- 2009 Bronze World Cup K1 1000m, Szeged, Hungary
- 2012 Bronze K1 500m at London Olympics
- 2014 Bronze K1 500m ICF Canoe Sprint Championships in Moscow
- 2016 Named African Federation’s Woman Paddler of the Year for 2015
- 2016 Olympics
- 2013 – Second at Fish River Canoe Marathon with Robyn Kime
- 2015 – Second at Fish River Canoe Marathon with Michelle Burn
- 2016 – Second at Fish River Canoe Marathon
TPM Your favourite coffee shop?
BH Vovo Telo (we are not saying which one 😉
TPM When you are not thinking about racing the next day what is your favourite dinner?
BH Roast chicken & vegetables
TPM We just have to ask, What is your top speed in your K1?
BH I think this is approx 19,3 km/h in a 200m event
TPM Music choices to train to
BH I don’t listen to music while I train, preferring nature as much as possible. But I love up beat songs in the gym – like top 40 hits.
TPM Specific diet to cope with the demands of your hectic schedule
BH I do try stick to a good diet as I often struggle to eat enough for the amount of training hours. I don’t eat wheat so I always need to take rice cakes or snacks with me when I travel to ensure I am refuelling constantly. I am a picky eater so I naturally prefer fruit, vegetables, meat & mainly good healthy food. Sometimes it is hard during training so I often take chocolate with me as a quick pick me up.
TPM Impressions of the Olympic Village as an athlete
BH An Olympic village can be amazing and it can also be the biggest distraction for an athlete. I don’t like the busy eating hall & crazy streets full of athletes but it’s a wonderful experience if one bumps into other amazing & successful athletes like Usain Bolt etc. the games room is always cool however I have always had time to hang out there. The eating hall is bigger than a rugby field so it’s quite an experience!
TPM The Opening Ceremony
BH I only walked into the opening ceremony in Beijing. This really was an incredible experience, team SA was relatively big compared to 2012 & 2016 so I am so glad that I managed to walk in during Beijing games. The athletes started singing Shosaloza which really made us feel like a team even though we were all from different sports.
TPM Why paddling/ sprints
BH I was actually never the best at any of the sports I competed in, which included hockey, athletics and surfing. I took up river paddling to join my dad. Then some guys at Tuks got me to go train in Benoni with Nandor Almasi a Hungarian coach and he taught me so much. The group was competitive which I thrived on and just kept improving!
TPM K1 looks like it can get quite lonely on the water
BH This past season has become lonelier as I haven’t had a fixed training group, however many of the younger paddling guys in Pietermaritzburg have helped me get through many sessions. Letting me sit on their wave. Abby Solms joined me in November and December last year to help her Dusi prep but closer to the games I chose to go to Brazil to try get a coach to help me but I didn’t have training partners so that wasn’t so much fun. It became more lonely.
TPM – When did going the Olympics first become a dream
BH To be honest it wasn’t a dream from young, I remember watching Alan van Coller in 2004 while I was studying and I was glued to watching the slalom events so that’s when I started thinking that it would be cool to compete in an Olympics but didn’t think it would become a reality so soon in 2008
TPM – There is a significant difference between having a dream and working (unbelievably hard) to make it a reality? What steps did you take that made the difference?
BH I set some goals & I never gave up, I just kept changing things if I hit bumps along the way. I sacrificed a lot of time with friends especially. I have trained through every single December since 2008. I also spent many lonely months living alone in Europe but this allowed me to train with Hungarians everyday twice a day and challenge myself against the best in the world. In the same breath I met some amazing people and made some good friends in foreign countries whom will be my friends forever.
TPM Qualifying rules for canoe sprinters in order to qualify for the Olympics
BH The first rounds qualifying process for Olympics games is a birth or boat for the country. This means that the person who qualifies in the boat can change if they are beaten the following year by a fellow countrymen according to that countries set of selection criteria rules.
The qualifying is not about a time as it’s an outdoor sport, it’s a place qualified for at the World Championships in the year prior to Olympics.
- top eight K1 boats
- Top six K2 boats
- Top ten K4 boats
However if the same person sits in a K4 & qualifies a K1 or K2 then there is a count back from 8th place. Which is how my 10th place result at world champs allowed me to qualify for Rio.
TPM Training schedule in the run-up to the Olympics 2008
BH We didn’t have so much money and I didn’t have a sponsor besides Lotto funding which we only received later to pay back our costs after the tour. I spent from May after racing World Cups in Europe, in Hungary training as I couldn’t afford to fly home. I had training camps with a group of C1 paddlers in Sepal and then a month training camp with the SA team again before flying from Hungary directly to Beijing.
TPM Did your training schedule change as you gained experience
BH I just started to become more aware of things I could work on to improve weaknesses. Like Pilates, yoga and certain stretches. I had more goals in time trials as I always tried to better my times.
TPM After coming second with Robyn Kime at the Fish River Marathon in 2013 were you not temped to change to river paddling?
BH I really loved paddling the rivers with Robyn, she was very relaxed. We combined very well as far as I can remember, I just needed to learn to relax in the rapids. I had already set my goal on another Olympics even though I did consider doing more river races. I was worried about getting an injury.
TPM Apart from April this year when the Africa Championships were hosted on your back door all your regattas have been oversees. That must be a huge commitment in terms of your time, time away from family and cost of traveling. How do you cope with the traveling?
BH When I first started to paddle I missed home but I seemed to always make it work as I had bigger training groups to join. After doing this for so many years I have started to feel more and more lonely overseas as I struggled to align myself with training partners in countries where I had access to a boat, cheaper accommodation, a coach and training partners. The Rand just got weaker and the money for camps never really increased so it became a big challenge. But the choice to stay at home more in the last two years didn’t give me the result I hoped for in Rio. As I didn’t have other girls or C1 boats at an international level to train with like had leading up to London.
TPM Do you receive any assistance from CSA, SASCOC or sponsors?
BH CSA has helped quite a lot as sprinting is an Olympic event which allows the Federation to apply for Lotto funding. Rivers and marathon races are not aligned to getting funding like this as they not Olympic events. My Federation has assisted with booking flights etc. when I haven’t had enough money to pay for my air tickets or pay for accommodation. The SASCOC money has been good as well, I would t be able to go on any international training camps if I didn’t get that money. However it’s a budget and the monthly amounts for foods and petrol never changed over a 8 year period even though food and petrol have got more expensive. I also have to spend the money in advance, submit receipts then hope I got paid back the entire claim. I have got some great product sponsors but no financial sponsors.
TPM What advice would you give to sprinters looking to follow in your footsteps?
BH Keep putting in the hard work, it doesn’t take one year to get good enough to qualify for an Olympics it takes 4-8 years sometimes.
TPM Where to from here
BH I have been reminded by many people that I can’t forget the achievements and history I have made as being the first paddler from South Africa and Africa to get world champs medals and an Olympic medal and not just remember the races. That didn’t go well in Rio. I honestly love paddling and I am not ready to give it up yet, but financially it’s becoming a challenge. I have my eye set on getting 1 or 2 medals in K1 & K2 next year at the marathon world champs which South Africa is hosting in Pietermaritzburg. I will take on a new challenge of rivers and Surfski races between now & then. After marathon world champs I will reset & decide the way forward. My heart is on another Olympics, but financially I am uncertain if it’s possible as I get older.