Canoeists Hartley, Wing to represent SA in Moscow

2014-07-14 00:00

LONDON Olympic bronze medallist Bridgitte Hartley will fly the South African flag at the ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships in Moscow from August 6-10. After a mixed start to the international racing season, the Natal ­Canoe Club (NCC) star is focused on getting her season back on track.

It began solidly enough at the first World Cup in Milan, with Hartley finishing sixth in the 500 metres against an elite field. However, before the next World Cup in Racice, she fell ill. As a result she placed outside of the top 10 at that event. It has taken her some time to regain her form, but now, looking strong and fit, she is satisfied with her preparations for the World Championships in Moscow.

Back home and training at NCC, Hartley said: “The focus is paddling and gym at the moment. I have been challenging myself a lot more, and trying to get certain speeds in certain sessions, and really trying to push myself to the limit the whole time, so it has been quite tough. But I have also been seeing a dietician a lot more regularly now.

“I lost a kilogram-and-a-half when I was at the World Cups after being sick. Not being able to do gym, I was a little bit concerned that if I had lost a kilogram of muscle mass that would definitely make me slower. I have been working quite closely with her to try and get everything back on track and I have managed to get back to my weight before I raced the world cups.

“I think that is really good, from a physical testing composition, but I have also been working really hard in the gym — not only on my strength in the gym, but also trying to correct little imbalances.”

Hartley will undertake three weeks of training in Europe’s summer weather before flying off to Russia for the World Championships. Her preparations will include training in Hungary for a week with the South African junior and U23 teams before she spends two weeks training in Austria.

The first week will be especially important, she said. “My boat that I am racing in is going to be there for one more week and then it has to be sent over [to Russia] because there are some complications with border posts, so the boats have to be sent early.”

Looking ahead to her goals for the World Championships, Hartley said: “Ideally I want to push for the A-final and a top-eight finish because if I am in the top eight then I am still within qualifying distance of being in the top eight at World Champs, which is the goal for the Olympics.

“I would love a medal, but because of all the changes I have made I think, maybe realistically, I would be happy with a top-five finish.”

Hartley will not be the only NCC paddler competing in the green and gold in Moscow. Hilton College schoolboy Jono Wing, who had the lower part of his right leg amputated after a lawnmower accident at the age of seven, will be competing in the Para-Canoe World Championships, contesting the 200 metres in the LTA category.

“It’s called LTA, because I have use of my leg, trunk and arms, and then there is TA: trunk and arms, and A: arms. That’s how they classify everything,” Wing explained.

“It is my second time going overseas. Previously I was in Hungary [at a World Cup event].”

Recalling that first experience of international competition, he added, “We South Africans are very small, generally, and skinny. When we got over there, they were very big and strong, so it was a bit of an eye-opener to think that I have to compete against those guys. I got over it eventually.

“I thought at the time that one has to ignore all your competitors and not think of how big they are in comparison to you, so that you can get what you have to do done and go as fast as you can.”

Wing is quite the go-getter, having contested the World Rok Go-Kart Championships in Italy in 2011, and having flown solo in 2013 at the age of just 15. Those achievements suggest he is not one to be overwhelmed by big challenges.

In Moscow, he will be competing in a different boat to the one he usually uses. “The boat I paddle over there is quite a big, stable boat, which is designed for other guys who cannot balance it well, so I am going to aim for a time of 48 seconds,” Wing said.

Training at NCC with canoeing legends like Olympic sprint medallist Bridgitte Hartley and four-time Dusi champion Andy Birkett was really uplifting, he added. “They give me loads of encouragement and help to motivate …”

Wing also said he was grateful to his school, Hilton College, which has been very supportive of his endeavours and has played an important role in helping him to be selected to represent his country at the World Championships.

NCC general manager Brett Austen Smith commented, “The environment we are creating here at NCC really is starting to produce some consistency in the training programmes for the paddlers. We are really looking forward to seeing how these programmes work out in the heat of World Championship competition. This year has been a learning curve for everybody, so we mustn’t create unrealistic expectations.”

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