Olympic paddling heroine Bridgitte Hartley has set her sights on adding the 2020 N3TC Drak Challenge canoe marathon title in partnership with FNB, from 1-2 February, to her impressive resume of paddling achievements.
The London 2012 500m K1 women’s bronze medallist has a jam-packed schedule again this season, having just become the first South African woman to represent her country at sprint, marathon and surfski world championships in the same calendar year.
She is a passionate supporter of the Drak Challenge and rates the Mzimkhulu as one of her favourite rivers to paddle on, but her stormy relationship with the Drak Challenge has seen the women’s K1 title somehow elude her over the years.
“The Drak is right up there on my bucket list of races I want to win,” said a determined Hartley. “I’ve got a second and a third at the Drak, and I would really like to better those results.”
She has been a regular factor in the women’s river marathon races since her return to river racing in 2013 after the Olympic commitments. In the memorable 2013 Drak Challenge she didn’t have answers to the questions posed by the flooded Mzimkhulu River.
She prepared well in the last two editions of the race but battled in the low river conditions over the two race days.
“I was probably the heaviest of the girls, and I came short by making some silly mistakes,” said the Euro Steel flyer.
Since her scare in 2013 Hartley says she has become a lot more confident in her own river skills and her knowledge of the 75 kilometre race course.
“I have slowly started to enjoy it a lot more. I used to stress out going into certain rapids, but now I feel so much more confident, and I can look at options and lines and decide on the best ones.
“To win the Drak you need to have a flawless race for starters,” she stressed. “But with the standard of the women’s field I think you have to braver, and back yourself rather than following other people.”
Hartley has an interesting first half of 2020 on the horizon. She still hopes that she will be able to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics at the last qualifying event, and will plan her training around that, and another serious Dusi Canoe Marathon K2 challenge.
She says that sprint training will remain the bases for her training, saying that it is easier to develop the stamina needed for marathon racing off a solid sprint base.
Hartley makes Underberg a regular stop in her summer paddling programme, as the technical skills and altitude all make for prime training conditions.
“I have always enjoyed Underberg and the Mzimkhulu,” she added. “It is a treat to paddle on clean water, and to enjoy a hike or a swim in one of the river’s pools afterwards,” she said.