‘Olympians paddling to inspire next generation, too’

Bridgitte Hartley won her bronze medal at the London Games in 2012. | BackpagePix

Bridgitte Hartley won her bronze medal at the London Games in 2012. | BackpagePix

Published Jul 11, 2024


WHEN TeamSA finally touches down in Paris to compete in the Olympics Games, former Olympian Bridgitte Hartley would like the country’s athletes to remember that they have already inspired the nation.

TeamSA held their farewell function on Tuesday night in Johannesburg, and will soon jet off to France to compete in the showpiece event, running from July 26 until August 11. And although every athlete dreams of winning a medal, Hartley believes that merely participating at the Games is enough to motivate the next generation of athletes to dream big, speaking from her own experience.

Hartley competed at three Olympics – 2008 in Beijing, London in 2012 and the Rio Games of 2016, winning her bronze in the English capital in the K-1 500m canoe sprint. Speaking exclusively to Independent Newspapers in June at the launch of the Betway 12th Man programme, she revealed that the mere fact that she had a canoeist to look up to during her early development was enough to drive her forward.

“I remember when I started,” she said, “I was studying at Tuks and we had Alan van Coller at the Olympics in 2004.

“At that stage, I really wasn’t dreaming of becoming an Olympian. I was just becoming good and four years later I was competing in Beijing but only made the semi-finals.

“Eight years from when I first watched canoeing at the Olympics, I took my bronze medal. The fact that we have canoers at the Olympics is already an incredible thing, and I am hoping it will inspire the younger paddlers.”

Van Coller competed in two Olympics – 2000 and 2004 – with a best-placed finish of eighth in Sydney in the men’s 500m. His presence at the Games, however, had a lasting legacy on athletes such as Hartley.

The 40-year-old also advised that if the current batch of athletes in TeamSA were to create a memorable moment they would need to rise to the occasion and be better than they had ever been. Moreover, she said, every little victory should be celebrated.

Said Hartley: “I do think that I had one of the best races of my life in the final. I went to the London Olympics saying I had to race the perfect race.

“It wasn’t about who I was racing against, it was about lining up on the start line and perfecting my own race. I was successful and that also makes it a good memory to be able to know that I raced my perfect race.”

TeamSA will be sending four canoeists – two men and two women – to participate in the K-2 500m sprint in Paris in Hamish Lovemore and Andrew Birkett, and Tiffany Koch and Esti Olivier. They will compete from August 6-10 on the Seine at the National Olympics Nautical Stadium in Vaires-sur-Maine 34km east of Paris.

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