Bridgitte Hartley

“This time I heard nothing,” recalls Bridgitte Hartley, speaking of the nearly two-minute explosion that won her bronze in the kayak single 500 m final at the 2012 London Olympics. “My body was aching from the start. The end was a blur.” Her signature power finish earned South Africa its fifth medal of the Games and Hartley’s first taste of Olympic precious metal. A niche star until then, the smiley Hartley came home a hero. “I thoroughly enjoyed every moment,” she explains, “realising just how many people had watched me race.” Afterwards she took a longer break than usual, getting stuck into some river paddling and media gigs. But she’s not done yet. Hartley’s new goal is a world championship medal in the 500m, and she’s made changes to boost her 200m results. And for the 2016 Games in Rio? “I’ve started working on my weak points already,” she says. “Hopefully in three years I’ll be even stronger.”
— Ian Macleod