SA canoeists target Olympic podium
20 July 2012
Sprint canoeists Bridgitte Hartley and Tiffany Kruger are aiming to be the first South African women to finish in the medals at the London 2012 Olympic Games. The racing will take place at the regatta course at Eton Dorney in Berkshire.
Hartley knows she has the ability to challenge for a medal, given her form of the past 12 months that has seen her win World Cup medals in her key 500m K1 discipline, and post a world record over the distance at last year's World Championships.
The 29-year-old Richards Bay-based speedster knows she has to replicate that form in three big races to put herself in a position to finish on the podium and scoop a medal. She is determined to minimise the distractions and race the Olympics like any other regatta.
"I am treating it as just another competition," said Hartley from her training base in Linz in Austria on Thursday where she has been working with her coach Nandor Almasi alongside Austrian and Slovakian team members.
"I don't want the hype and the media attention to interfere with my preparations, so I will not be going to the opening ceremony this time - I will watch it on TV - and will arrive in England just before the start of the sprint programme."
"Then I will take each day of racing just as I would for a World Cup or World Championships," she added. "I will paddle the course, and then on each day I have a specific warm-up plan and race plan.
"I know what it is like to race that perfect race and in an environment like the Olympics it is simply a case of putting together all the pieces to race that perfect race again."
'Race my heart out'
"I can assure you that all my training and preparation has been great. All that remains is for me to race my heart out!" said Hartley.
Hartley and her Olympic teammate Kruger were signed onto South Africa's professional paddling outfit, Team Best 4 Kayak Centre, earlier this year to back them during their Olympic training phase.
"It's made a huge difference," Hartley reckoned. "The extra support has made it possible to prepare properly without having to cut any corners, and [to] go to sleep at night confident and unstressed."
Hartley is also enjoying being in a team environment after years of campaigning on her own far from home.
"I get a weekly motivating e-mail that is sent to all the Team Best 4 Kayak Centre paddlers," said Hartley. "Apart from being inspiring, they make me feel closer to home when I am miles away on my own."
"Of course everyone's dream is to stand on a podium with an Olympic medal around their neck, so naturally I have that in my mind as well," said Hartley. "More importantly, I have a goal to not allow my nerves to get the better of me and finish these Olympics saying those were the best races of my life."
"Right now the Olympic motto 'Citius, Altius, Fortius' is very much top of my mind and encapsulates my goals," she added.
Kruger can afford to take a different approach to the London Olympics as it is her first visit to the Games as part of a long term strategy by the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) to blood talent with Rio de Janeiro 2016 in mind.
Kruger will take on the 200m K1 races in London. They have been introduced to the Olympic programme to provide a more spectator friendly event than the 1 000 metres format, and have attracted plenty of interest from the major sprint paddling nations.
The Amanzimtoti-based 25-year-old is coached by Hungarian former Olympic medallist Attila Adrovics, and has been training out of her base at the Natal Canoe Club in Pietermaritzburg, mindful of the fact that the tough 200m distance is very unpredictable.
"Anything can happen over 200 metres," said Kruger. "I have trained hard and my goal is to make a final, either a B final or an A final if things go my way."
She has also used her position in the new pro team as a source of motivation. "I look at the results of the other paddlers on the team who are doing really well and I want to match that and feel like I have made a contribution to the team."
Flatwater Sprints Programme for Female Kayakers
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