Hartley sets sights on Fish River title

Bridgitte Hartley (Anthony Grote/Gameplan Media)
Bridgitte Hartley (Anthony Grote/Gameplan Media)

Cradock - With five races in as many weeks in different parts of the world, Bridgitte Hartley returns home to the 2018 Fish River Canoe Marathon this weekend hoping to bag a first SA K1 River Marathon Championship title.

Hartley's international jet-setting started with a bronze medal at the ICF Sprint World Championships at the end of August. She then went to the Nelo Summer Challenge and the ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships in Portugal.

She returned home to win the VKB Liebensbergvlei Marathon after which she jetted to Ireland where she finished third in the Irish Coast Paddling Championships last weekend.

A bit of recovery time is on the cards for the three-time Olympian.

"I am definitely going to take a couple of days off!" she said with a relief. "It has been non-stop and I want to avoid being ill going into Fish.

"I want two or three days away from paddling to recharge and get myself prepared for the trip to Cradock."

Hartley, who finished second at the 2016 Fish behind Abby Solms is looking to stamp her authority on river marathon racing. The 2018 Fish gives her the perfect opportunity as she searches for a first major marathon scalp.

"I am going to head down to Cradock early next week so I can get in a few days' worth of tripping on the river," she said.

"I am no river guru but last year in a K2 we managed to navigate ourselves down the river fairly well with only one swim at Cradock Weir.

"I got a lot of confidence from last year’s race so I hope that I can take that into this year's event."

Having a bit of time in her river boat in the Free State a few weeks ago was important for Hartley who has only had that preparation time for the Hansa Fish.

"I felt that I needed to race at the Liebenbergsvlei considering I have been in a sprint boat, marathon boat and a surfski as well over the past five weeks," she said.

"It is going to feel a little bit strange next week but I will give myself enough time to prepare."

The Fish River often provides high drama with the race including some of the most exciting rapids in South African river racing. One of the most infamous is the Keith’s Flyover Rapid ten kilometres into the race and Hartley has made her decision about daunting obstacle.

"I don't think that I am going to be shooting Keith's this year," she said. "For me I just don't think it is something that I need to shoot.

"I feel that I am strong enough to gain back the time on the flat water that I might lose portaging around Keith's."

The ladies race is going to be one of the most open in a few years with the likes of Jenna Ward and Christie Mackenzie vying for the title. Hartley understands that 2017 K2 winner Ward will be a serious threat.

"Jenna is always an incredible competitor and will be tough competition," she said.

"She has had a good year with a fourth at the World Marathon Championships and she is in some good form going into the Fish.

"It is going to be a great race and it's exciting to see that there are a number of paddlers that can win the race," Hartley added.

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