Team South Africa will be sending a women’s K4 boat to the upcoming ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships from 14-17 September in Copenhagen, marking another chapter in the history of the four-paddler crew boats involving South African women paddlers.
The team will be made up of experienced sprint star Bridgitte Hartley, South Africa’s premier sprinter Esti van Tonder, experienced surfski and marathon star Michelle Burn and the young Border star Zara Wood.
South Africa’s women’s K4 won the last African Championships, and fielded a strong women’s K4 at the Beijing Olympic Games. The chance to get a women’s K4 crew to the 2021 World Championships came through strong relationships with some of the powerful European sprint nations.
Given that there will be a lack of sprint paddlers from Australasia due to travel restrictions the request was made to the South African team to put a team together for the K4 women’s race and Hartley obliged.
“With no boats from New Zealand or Australia that meant that there was one less continent represented at the World Championships,” the former Olympic bronze medallist Hartley said.
“I said that I would help and then I got about getting our crew together and we’ve managed to get a strong crew together for the event despite us not being able to train together.
“Zara (Wood) is in Germany studying and training there with a team of German sprinters, Michelle (Burn) will be in Ireland beforehand paddling in a surfski race and Esti (van Tonder) has been overseas racing this year already.”
With the crew being dotted around the world in the build-up to the event, Hartley isn’t putting too much emphasis on the results but is looking at the long-term future of sprint paddling in South Africa.
“I really hope that we can help spark an interest in sprint paddling here,” she explained. “I really want us to be an inspiration for younger paddlers and to help them take up sprint paddling as their favourite discipline.
“There are a number of countries that will be racing that didn’t qualify for the Olympic Games and the countries that were at the Games will be in top form still so it will be a difficult race but we are looking forward to racing.”
The crew will only have a short period of time together when they arrive in Denmark, however Hartley has paddled with Burn and Van Tonder so has an idea of what to expect.
“We will have just under a week of training together when we get to Copenhagen but I’ve just been in Pretoria and trained with Esti and I’ve paddled with Michelle in the past.
“Those few days will give us time in our K4 but also in our K1 and K2’s to train alongside one another,” Hartley added.
The K4 race will not be Hartley’s only event as she and Van Tonder will race in their K2 and she will also take part in the 5000m K1.
“Esti and I will be racing the K2 500m as well and then I’ll race the five kay race as build up to the Marathon World Championships.
“I’ll be staying in Europe after the Sprint Worlds because it’s just a week’s break before we head to Romania for the Marathon World Championships.
“I’ll be based in Hungary again preparing for Marathon Worlds.”
As Canoeing South Africa starts the building cycle that will lead to the qualification process for the Paris Olympics in 2024, the opportunity to develop a crew boats will be an important building block for the country’s flatwater racers.