As the country’s best flatwater sprint canoeists converge on the newly established sprint course at Shongweni Dam, the course passed its first serious test with flying colours at the KZN Sprint Championships on the weekend.
As the venue is set to play host to the national, South African Schools and the African Sprint Championships all within the next four weeks it was vital that the course made the grade.
“I really thought that it was one of the best courses I have raced on in South Africa!” 2012 Olympic bronze medallist Bridgitte Hartley said after the KZN Champs. “The course is definitely up there with international standards as it has just as many buoys as you would see on an international sprint course.
“This is important in working out where you are during a race in relation to the other boats,” she added.
With the Shongweni Dam facility on her doorstep Hartley will have a great venue to train at in the future however with a busy schedule leading into an important season in Europe she will be unable to use it.
“It would be really great to train on the course, it is that good. It is very different to the course that we used at Roodeplaat last year which will be a bit more favourable for the racing that is coming up this weekend.
“I won’t be able to get on to the course this week unfortunately but I am not too worried at this stage because it is so early in the season. A lot of the girls in Europe would only have been on the water for a month so far this year,” Hartley mentioned.
Despite having qualified for the Olympic Games Hartley will need to win her national championships in order to retain her place at sports greatest show which adds slightly more emphasis to the event in an Olympic year.
“I just have to make sure that I cross the line first,” she reiterated. “It is quite a difficult one for me and the course means that we won’t be racing world beating times with a strong head wind around but I want to win and then just dissect the way in which I raced.”
The African Sprint Championships will potentially be the next event on the calendar for Hartley and despite the event having no qualification status for her she has eyed it out as another event through which she can continue to improve.
“I just want to take everything one race at a time at the moment.
“It is really early season and you don’t want to be peaking too early but the African Champs will be a good way to see where I am before going into the European season.
“I am not too sure about the criteria but I would assume that I am not able to compete in the Olympic qualification races.
“They might have to separate the races like they did in the previous Olympic cycle but we will see what happens at the event,” a relaxed Hartley explained.
The South African Sprint Championships take place at Shongweni Dam from 11-13 March. The African Sprint Championships take place at Shongweni Dam from 1-3 April.