Bridgitte Hartley

Canoer

South Africa’s golden girl of kayaking, Bridgitte Hartley, is preparing hard for the Rio Olympics; she leaves for Brazil in July.

The 32-year-old Hartley says her biggest aim at the moment is working on technique and focus. Asked what drives her, she says: “I am extremely goal-orientated. Have been since I was small and I have always set goals, which somehow I cannot change, so I work towards achieving them.

“I am also fortunate to have a flair for sport and have been involved in different types of sport at school and university. I started surfing at a young age and attended many South African championship events as a junior and senior. I played hockey, athletics, gymnastics, water polo and eventually kayaking, which I took up competitively at university.”

Hartley says her father introduced her to river marathon kayaking and she started competitive river kayaking at the end of 2002. She began sprint training with Hungarian coach and head coach of the Austrian Canoe Federation, Nandor Almasi, at the end of 2004.

Hartley’s success is an inspiration for youth across continents who appreciate her determination and the hard work required to excel in any sport. “It is great to be recognised by my peers, and I hope my success is further motivation for the other female paddlers in Africa to keep driving women’s canoeing competitive standards.”

In 2009, Hartley won her first World Cup at the K1 Women 500m in Szeged, Hungary, and also in Hungary she qualified for the London Olympics with an unofficial world record time. Hartley became the first person from the African continent to medal — a bronze — at the ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships in Moscow in 2014.

This year, Hartley was named the African Canoe Federation’s Women’s Paddler of the Year for 2015. Hartley won a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics K1 (kayak singles) Women’s 500m and secured her 2016 Olympic qualification at the last World Championships in Milan. She recently won the K1 Women’s 500m at the KwaZulu-Natal Championships and dominated the South African Championships.

“The Olympic village is very distracting so I will be basing myself in São Paulo for July and will only move to Rio four or five days before my events. I finished sixth at my last World Cup at the end of May and I got the same result at a World Cup in 2012, so I believe with a lot of hard work before Rio, I can still improve.” — Rebecca Haynes

Photo: Clive Mason/Getty

Twitter: @for_bridgitte