ZENNA MULLER & KATLEGO PHEEHA

South Africa had its most successful Olympics in the country’s history earlier this month, winning a total of six medals in London. One of the athletes to have achieved a podium place was TuksSports’s own Bridgitte Hartley, who won a bronze medal in the women’s kayak K1 500m final. Perdeby had the opportunity to speak to her about what has been dubbed in many quarters the best Olympic Games ever.

What was it like to compete at the Olympics?

To be honest I tried to tone it down a bit because I know that there is lots of hype [about it] and it happens every four years.  My coach told me: “Bridgitte, it’s just a competition,” as much as it is the biggest competition for anyone to compete in.

You were the first person from Africa to win the ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships. How does that compare to an Olympic bronze medal?

Making history for the first time was quite exciting because it was my first World Championship medal. It was really exciting for me but the Olympic medal is way more emotional.  It is really something to cherish and it is really something special to have.

After doing so well in the semi-finals, did you feel any added pressure going into the final?

I had one of my best races in the semi-finals and that’s the race that actually counts the most.  In the final you’re racing against seven girls, but if you don’t make it through the semi-finals you don’t even get to race against the other seven girls.  When I realised that I could have another good race, I really realised that I had a good chance to get a medal in the final.

How has being a household name changed your life?

It hasn’t really sunk in.  I’m starting to realise that the response I’m getting from the South African public is really incredible. I’m starting to realise what an impression I’ve made on South Africans.

Do you think a medal means more to South Africans compared to China who win medals in almost every event?

I definitely think so.  I think for them a gold medal or Olympic record is amazing, but a bronze medal would be nothing.  The response I’ve received for getting a bronze medal for South Africa made me feel like I’d won gold and still feels like I’ve got gold from the warm welcome we’ve got.

How did you feel competing against world class athletes like Hungarian World Champ, Danuta Kozák and Olympic defending champion, Inna Osyepenko Radomska of the Ukraine?

Up until the Olympics, as soon as I saw I had one of those names in my heats, I would actually get really nervous. But what I managed to do well was taking each race as it goes.  I got excited that I got Danuta Kozak in my heat. 

As you approach the age of 30, do you feel awkward competing against younger athletes?

I don’t really, to be honest. All the K1 medallists from Beijing were 32 and older and now Danuta was the only younger girl out of the three medallists.  Our sport is all about strength and power and I think you get a bit stronger as a woman as you get older. I’ve made loads of good friends from other countries that are 20 to 23 years old.  I’ve trained with them and they push me and I push them. I managed to do well and I don’t feel like it is the end of the road at all.

What is your next step or goal in your career?

I figured I’d have holiday now and weigh out what I want to do with my life.  I’ve got a degree now but I wouldn’t start working. I might get something part time to do.

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