Cradock – London Olympic Games silver medalist Bridgitte Hartley may have retired from competitive sprint canoeing earlier this year, but there is no dimming her competitive spirit as she aims for a fourth Fish River Marathon title this weekend.
For the 2023 edition of the Fish River Marathon, Hartley will once again be teaming up with former Serbian sprint rival and accomplished flatwater paddler, Krisztina Bedoc, as they target winning the South African Championship event which takes place on Friday and Saturday.
The pair will be looking for a measure of revenge after they were robbed of what looked to be a certain victory in 2017. They combination won the first day but a late swim at the final major obstacle, Cradock Weir, saw Jenna Ward and Anna Adamova claim a last-gasp victory by less than two minutes.
For Hartley it was a rare setback in the event and she will be aiming for a hat-trick of wins and a fourth title in the premier racing class of what she describes as her “favourite river race”. Hartley won the K1 race in 2018 and 2022 and in a double in 2021 with Christie MacKenzie.
She does also have a fourth title after she won the K3 title in 2012, shortly after her London Olympics heroics, but the relatively low-key category is probably not a title she ranks high on her impressive canoeing CV.
Bedoc is not known as an accomplished rough-water competitor, but their performance in 2017 provides ample proof that they cannot be discounted, even if Hartley claims with a laugh that the boat “will probably not be rock solid going through Keith’s (Flyover rapid).”
The Serbian has won three European titles for sprint and flatwater marathon racing and has five World Championship medals, and was sixth in the short-course event at the recent World Marathon Championships in Denmark last month. So, with her South African partner steering the boat, they are sure to be extremely tough to beat if they can stay upright.
“I do not want to put too much pressure on us for the Fish because there are some very accomplished crews lining up on Friday,” said Hartley on Tuesday.
“Most of the other top women’s crews have all raced the World Champs recently … in fact I think I was the only one who did not go to Denmark and stayed at home and coached and trained.
“Saskia (Hockly) and Christie (MacKenzie) train together and look like they are combining well, and Jade (Wilson) and Nikki (Birkett) are definitely paddling very well together and will be hard to beat.
“I am not sure how Jenna (Nisbett) and Pippa (McGregor) are going but I am sure they will be in with a chance as well.”
The 2012 Olympic medalist is looking forward to the start on Friday as she aims for her 14th finish in the popular Eastern Cape Marathon.
“I think this is my favourite river race,” added Hartley. “I love it and have finished more Fishes than any other marathon I think … I think I have finished about 14 which is a lot more than Dusi.
The 82km race starts on Friday morning at Grassridge Dam and the first stage ends at finishes at Knutsford Bridge, 46km downstream. Day Two takes pladdlers from Knutsford to Cradock, a distance of 36km.
More information can be found at www.fishmarathon.org.za.