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Bridgitte focuses on power as she hunts down top eight slot at World Cup
- Updated: February 12, 2015
For Olympic sprint star Bridgitte Hartley there was one clear highlight in 2014, and a result that confirmed that the Natal Canoe Club star remains among the globe’s elite canoe sprinters.
‘Winning a bronze medal at the World Championships,’ she said without hesitation.
It was a big result given that she had endured some struggles the previous year after a setback from chicken pox. ‘In 2013, chicken pox set my body back. It wasn’t as if I had to do rehab to get stronger again. It was a matter of starting training again from scratch and building on that. Anyway, 2013 was not meant to be a big year for me. That was a blessing in disguise,’ Hartley said.
The following year was a year of big changes for Hartley, especially in the gym where she began to work with biokineticist Gareth Ford of EAP.
‘It was quite hard in the beginning because I had to try to trust him, while I was still hesitant and still wanting to do some of my old gym programme and I stressed out when the new gym work made me so sore that I couldn’t paddle,’ Hartley shared.
‘It was quite challenging for me, but I think it’s good that I have been able to talk to him and say that there are things that I must keep and I mustn’t drop, because that would be reinventing the wheel. I have definitely seen some changes already in comparing my base gym phase at this time of the year to last year. I am much stronger than I have ever been, and even more than in the year before the  Olympics.’
Her medal-winning performance in Moscow at the World Championships was not just about a physical boost, Hartley explained, it also gave her a valuable mental boost. ‘I think the results in 2014 gave me some confidence that some of the changes I have made in the gym have actually paid off.
‘I have always been doubtful about changing things in case they don’t work,’ she admitted, ‘but I have learnt from my body over the years and decided that maybe a change in the gym to make my whole body stronger, working all the muscle groups, instead of focusing on a few, would help me, and I think it did.’
The early part of the year is about base training, putting in the hard yards early, which then allows Hartley to focus her efforts on the big events that fall in the middle of the year.
‘The major goal is to be in the top eight at the World Champs in August,’ she said. ‘The World Cups are just practice and whatever happens there happens. Obviously it is great to do well at a World Cup, but for me that’s not the most important thing. I have had years where I have really battled and been ill and then come to World Champs and had really great World Champs.’
Candidly, she added: ‘I still doubt myself, but I definitely have a track record of producing the biggest results when it counts. Somehow I manage to get it right. I don’t know how, but I do.’
The most important time of the year for the bubbly blonde is from May to August, ‘because I don’t get to race the European Championships or any major selection races where somebody is hunting me down,’ Hartley explained. ‘For me, then, I take it upon myself to get myself sharp for the World Champs and I often join international training groups to be able to do that.
‘I try to stay relaxed as the year goes on. I do get a bit nervous when other people are doing exceptionally well in May in the World Cups. I get a bit envious and wish that I could be doing that too.
‘At the same time, that makes me work harder between May and August because I can’t say I got a medal in May and I am good. It means I have a couple more months to sharpen up and become better than the other girls, who have been succeeding at the World Cup.’
Underlining her ambitions in the year before the Rio Olympic Games, Hartley concluded: ‘The main goal is to be top eight and I would be satisfied with that. Obviously if I could do better I would be very happy, but for now it is all about training hard and building on my strong points and continuing to work on my weak points, and slowly but surely get faster as the year goes on.’
Hartley’s more immediate goal is to perform well at the South African Sprint Championships which take place in Gauteng over the Easter weekend. She is hoping to use the event to judge her progress towards Olympic qualification and to assess how her training programme is going.