South African paddlers lit up the canoeing headlines in Europe with sprint hero Bridgitte Hartley repeating her London Olympics bronze medal effort at the World Championships in Moscow, and South Africans river racers grabbing two podium places at the legendary Sella Descent in Spain.
Hartley came into the Sprint World Champs in Moscow having had a disrupted season, but showed her class and tactical acumen by racing well into the women’s 500m A final, and then using her trademark surge through the final 250 metres to clinch the bronze medal behind Hungarian ace Danuta Kozak and New Zealander Lisa Carrington.
The SASCOC Opex athlete was elated at the outcome, particularly as she had started the day concerned about her health.
“It felt like I was getting a temperature when I was warming up ,” said Hartley. “I told myself that it didn’t matter if I got sick, I just had to push through to my last final. It probably helped that I wasn’t putting pressure on myself to get a medal actually.”
“I was just trying to have a race that didn’t have any flaws,” she added. “I just wanted to concentrate on making every stroke count, counting every stroke and making sure each one was powerful.
“Going into the last twenty strokes I felt that I was in the mix and I just concentrated on taking it all the way to the line. When I crossed the line I thought Germany had got the third, and even when I was called to boat weigh-in I wasn’t sure. The I was told that I had to be ready for the medal ceremony in ten minutes. That’s when I knew!” she said.
Hartley said the medal had given her a major confidence boost because she has made numerous changes to her training regime, and was now working closely with Craig Mustard in Pietermaritzburg.
“I have been challenging myself more, which has helped a lot,” she added. “Working with a team of a coach, dietician and a sport psychologist, and Craig (Mustard) working with me on the water has definitely made a difference.”
“I think I was also happier going into this world champs having someone with me who was South African, and not being on this massive European continent all by myself and spending all my weekends alone.
“I was really down after my World Cups, but I am really enjoying my training a lot more now and things are going a lot better. I know I haven’t hit my best form yet and I can’t get complacent because there is still a lot of work to do in the next years,” said Hartley.
Later in the day Hartley added a solid seventh in the women’s 200m K1 final to her credit, wrapping up an excellent weekend for the South African team.
Under 23 speedster Crisjan Coetzee raced into the 200m K1 C final in his first senior world championship outing, with the crew of Ali Glass and Ant Collopy did just as well, making the 1000m C final.
Hilton schoolboy Jono Wing also made a big impression, and was denied a shot at a final by a heavily loaded heat that saw him just miss out in his 200m K1 LTA para-canoeing category.
Meanwhile on Saturday South African paddlers powered to podium finishes in the men’s and women’s K2 races at the 78th Sella Descent in Spain, with Andy Birkett and Greg Louw finishing third overall, and Abby Adie and her partner Laura O’Donaghue shocking the race to convincingly win the women’s race.
Birkett and Louw, who were using the race as part of their preparations for the upcoming World Marathon Championships in Oklahoma City next month, raced a tactically clever race after an excellent start that saw the contenders whittled down to a fast six boat bunch.
“We managed to get into the right place in the endsprint and just stayed on the right of the two Spanish crews, because we knew that those two Spanish boats were going to trying to kill each other.
“We are stoked, over the moon,” said Birkett.
“I don’t think we expected this, but it is nice to take something like this to the World Marathon Champs and to have raced against those two (Spanish) boat that everyone is trying to hang with,” said Birkett.
The victory in the women’s race was a nervy one for Adie and O’Donaghue as they managed to get clear of the other fancied women’s crews in the mayhem at the start and they were never sure where their challengers were in the massive field of paddlers on the small river.
“We were seeded 311th, which wasn’t too bad, and we got such a good start that were able to get away from the other women until the first corner where there were quite a few pile ups and things got quite chaotic. But we managed to stay clear of all that mayhem and carnage and that set us up for the rest of the race,” said Adie.
“We were expecting the top women to come past us at some stage so we just put our heads down.
“There are so many people it is quite hard to spot where the other women were in the big bunches. They finished about two and a half minutes behind us in the end,” said Adie.
Like Birkett and Louw, the value of the podium outcome lies in their preparations for their K2 challenge at the World Mar4athon Championships in Oklahoma City.
“We are both over the moon with the result, so happy,” added Adie, who last month won the tough four day Berg River Canoe Marathon title in the Western Cape.
Robyn Kime finished sixth in the women’s K1 race. “It felt great to be back in a boat. The Sella is just crazy,” tweeted Kime, who has been taking a break from her paddling in recent months.
ICF SPRINT WORLD CHAMPS, MOSCOW
K1 W 500 Final A
1 Danuta Kozak HUN 1:49.283
2 Lisa Carrington NZL 1:49.790
3 Bridgitte Hartley RSA 1:50.496
4 Franziska Weber GER 1:50.622
5 Teresa Portela POR 1:52.055
6 Yvonne Schuringaut AUT 1:52.153
7 Ewelina Wojnaroiwska POL 1:53.192
8 Yu ZHOU CHN 1:53.498
9 Sofia Paldanius SWE 1:53.822
SELLA DESCENT, ASTURIAS, SPAIN
1 Walter Bouzan/Alvar Sanchez 1:06:44
2 Emilion Merchan/Ivan Alonso 1:06:45
3 Andy Birkett/Greg Louw 1:06:47
1.Abby Adie/Laura O’Donaghue 1:16:59
2 Amaia Osaba/Sheila Barrios 1:19:15
3 Olatz Zabala Doiminguies/Amaia Babace 1:20:53