Team South Africa got it’s 2015 international sprint canoeing season under way in impressive style as the six paddler strong contingent achieved a total of four A-finals and four B-finals at the first of three legs of the 2015 ICF Canoe Sprint World Cup in Montemor-o-Velho, Portugal over the weekend.
The World Cup opener saw 2012 London Olympic bronze medallist Bridgitte Hartley continue her build-up towards this year’s ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships in Milan, Italy from 19-23 August – one of the final few pieces still to be slotted into her Rio 2016 preparation puzzle.
A solid sixth position in the women’s K1 500m A-final on Saturday, finishing 2.322 seconds behind winner Lisa Carrington of New Zealand, and her 14th place effort in the women’s K1 200m dash on Sunday was a pleasing start to the season for the bubbly blonde.
“I finished in sixth place today in (my) K1 500m #worldcup1 #Portugal,” Hartley posted on Instagram shortly after her A-final effort. “I am happy with the racing as its all (part of my) learning (for) World Champs August.”
Despite a smaller than usual field, conditions meant the World Cup was still a stiff challenge for competitors.
“We had some challenging winds to compete with all day on Friday all day and again on Saturday afternoon,” explained Hartley. “There was a strong side and head wind which were unpredictable so we had to just try race the best we could each and every race.”
“During my 500m A-final we then had quite a strong tail wind which is favourable for most but with my slow start and strong finish, I prefer a slight head wind.
“The warm weather definitely played into our hands though as the temperature regularly reached the upper 20’s meaning we were quite comfortable competing in conditions similar to those we are used to back home.”
Hartley was unable to replicate her 500m A-final qualifying efforts in the women’s K1 200m charge.
“The 200m is always challenging for me as the other girls get out the start blocks so fast!
“I had a good heat and ended up finishing fifth in the B-final in 40.512 seconds which is close to my PB from Russia with a strong tail wind so that was still quite pleasing.”
Pietermaritzburg’s first year Under-23 competitor Louis Hattingh put in a strong showing amongst his senior rivals that saw him finish second in his men’s K1 500m heat behind global sprint icon, former Olympic medallist and multiple world champion Adam van Koevenden of Canada, before victory in his semi-final paved the way for a maiden senior A Final appearance.
A seventh place effort in the A-final – a clash that saw Van Koevenden only able to manage a second place performance – while also securing fourth in the men’s 1000m K1 B Final and men’s K1 5000m 12th was a positive opening display by the youngster.
“I was very proud to see Louis Hattingh race his first senior World Cup and come away with a fourth place in the B-final,” said team manager Craig Mustard said on social media while in Portugal. “Bridgitte Hartley (is) in fine form as well at the start of the season achieving a great sixth place in the ladies 500m A final. Well done to both of (them).”
Chrisjan Coetzee, Ant Collopy, Esti van Tonder and Tiffany Kruger also made the journey to Portugal with three of the four involved in K1 and K2 clashes during the weekend.
Coetzee put in a valiant effort in his men’s K1 200m, ultimately claiming second place in B-final shootout and finishing just 0.024 seconds off the pace.
He and Collopy then teamed up in the K2 clash over the same distance and the pair gained valuable experience racing against some of the globe’s top crews en route to an eighth place in their semi-final.
Van Tonder and Kruger overcame the small fields of their respective heats to book a spot in the A-final where Van Tonder claimed fifth place five and a half seconds behind the winner while Kruger finished ninth.
“Even though there were only 11 paddlers that entered, it was great that Esti and Tiffany raced into the K1 1000m A-final!” said Hartley. “I started off racing K1 1000m for South Africa and it’s a great place for up and coming paddlers to get some international experience!”
Van Tonder and Kruger then combined for the women’s K2 500m tussle and a fifth in their heat followed by a sixth in their semi-final saw them through to the B-final where they finished eighth, handing them 17th overall.
The core of the team will now turn their attention towards this weekend’s second leg of the World Cup campaign in Duisberg, Germany.
While Van Tonder and Kruger will be returning home and won’t be making the German trip, Hartley, Hattingh, Coetzee and Collopy all will be and will be joined by para-paddler Graeme Paull who will be competing in the men’s K1 200m TA match-up.