Bridgitte Hartley during the semi final of the Women's K1500m at Copacabana Lagoa on August 17 2016 in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. File photo: GALLO IMAGES/WESSEL OOSTHUIZEN
Bridgitte Hartley during the semi final of the Women's K1500m at Copacabana Lagoa on August 17 2016 in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. File photo: GALLO IMAGES/WESSEL OOSTHUIZEN

While she still harbours serious Olympic aspirations in 2021, SA’s most decorated sprint paddler Bridgitte Hartley says she is determined to make her mark at the 2021 MyLife Dusi Canoe Marathon from March 18-20.

There is heightened interest in the three-day classic, which has a new sponsor on board, after being given the green light to be staged when many other events are being cancelled or postponed. The unprecedented summer rainfall has filled the rivers and sparked interest in the race for many paddlers including Hartley.

“Being on the NCC [Natal Canoe Club] committee and seeing the work that has gone into this year’s Dusi has really made me excited for the race,” Hartley said. To have a new sponsor on board has made things that much more exciting, and for me the cross-training is always something I enjoy even though I am not very good at running with my boat.

“I love the challenge of the Dusi because it’s so far detached from what I have known my whole career.”

Hartley’s best Dusi result is a second in a K2 with Christie Mackenzie in 2018; however, her K1 results have not been as strong. This is something the Olympic bronze medallist would like to change in 2021.

“I would still love to conquer the Dusi. It’s a challenge that I love taking on and I wouldn’t write off trying to win the race, but I know there are a lot of other girls that want to compete and win.

“I want to be fit and ready for the race next month.”

Hartley has been training with the likes of Dusi specialists Thulani Mbanjwa and Khumbulani Nzimande at Nagle Dam, in KwaZulu-Natal, in preparation for the race.

“While I haven’t been able to train with the guys often, it has been great for both of us from a paddling and portaging perspective.

“I have learnt a lot about running with my boat, which has been great, and it’s been fantastic to see how they train for the Dusi. Training at Nagle Dam is beautiful, so I’ve really enjoyed my time there and I have learnt so much about Dusi preparation,” she added.

Given the current state of affairs and the forever changing landscape, Hartley still has ambitions about giving 2021’s Olympic Games qualification a go. However, she is in two minds about her long-term plans.

“My paddling career is definitely at a crossroads at the moment,” she said. “With the postponement of the Olympic Games to this year, qualification is definitely still in the back of my mind.

“The thing for me is that it is hard to justify spending my own money to go to Russia to try and qualify when you are not guaranteed a spot at the Games,” Hartley said.

But she has not given up on qualification and “will train and prepare like I am going to try and qualify for Tokyo”.

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