‘The most amazing thing in my life’

2012-08-10 00:00

“IT really is emotional. This is what every athlete dreams of. It’s the most amazing thing that has happened in my life so far,” said Bridgitte Hartley once she had come to terms with winning the bronze medal at the K1 500 m sprint at Eton Dorney yesterday.

After crossing the line, it took a few seconds before the 29-year-old from Richards Bay fully accepted her bronze medal placing, behind Hungarian world champion Danuta Kozak and defending Olympic champion Inna Osypenko-Radomska of the Ukraine.

“I heard the Hungarian shouting and knew she definitely got it. Then they put Ukraine [on the score board]. I was like ‘please please please’ … then South Africa … I thought maybe they will switch it round, maybe there’s a photo finish, but it just stayed there.

“Thank you, thank you!” exclaimed Hartley, who moved to Empangeni with her mother 12 years ago, and then to Richards Bay where she went to John Ross High School.

Although her studies took her to Pretoria, where she received a sponsorship from the High Performance Centre, she considers the northern KwZulu-Natal town as her South African base between European training camps.

This was Hartley’s second Olympics, having competed in the K2 1 000 m in Beijing with Michelle Erlay, where they made the semi-finals before being eliminated.

“Beijing taught me about the hype, so I came here knowing what to expect and able to tone it down to take it as a normal race,” said Hartley, who reached the final after been placed second in her heat and winning her semi-final in her typical racing pattern.

“You really have to race your own race and not really worry about who is around you.

“My race plan has never been about winning at the start. I don’t stress about it because I know I have a strong end and I just try to focus on that and cut my strokes.”

Her start saw her in fifth at 250 m behind the Ukrainian, with the Hungarian, Finnish and Swedish boats all in the chase. Using her typical faster finish, she clawed back first Anne Rikala (Finland) and metres before the line edged ahead of Swede Sofia Paldanius to secure the medal in 1:52,923.

Hartley has also been training and coaching in Pietermaritzburg in her build-up, working with a group of juniors alongside coach Craig Mustard, KwaZulu-Natal’s head canoeing coach.

“They had been asking me to coach some of the girls. I wanted to do that prior to the Olympics and kept putting it off, but the opportunity arose when there was freezing weather predicted for the training camps in Spain and Portugal, so I stayed in Pietermaritzburg, training above the Ernie Pearce weir,” said Hartley, who won a bronze medal in the K1 1 000m at the 2009 world championships.

“The Martizburg canoeists made me feel really welcome. The guys would join my sessions and often people would jump onto my wake and join me for the long session,” said an emotional Hartley, who wears a silver Olympic ring pendant around her neck, a gift a friend made while she was training in Pietermaritzburg.

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