Interview: Bridgitte Hartley

A bracing talk with a kayaking champion.

By Susan Miller

Olympic fever has swept the nation and the world. I wanted to keep the mood going, so I asked South Africa's bronze medallist kayaker Bridgitte Hartley about her time at the Games and what winning a medal is really like.

Bridgitte came third in the K1 500m in a time of 1:52.923 after Hungary's Danuta Kozak, who won in 1:51.456, and Ukraine's Inna Osypenko-Radomska, who managed 1:52.685.

It must have been amazing?
It really was, I think it's still trying to sink in!

When did you arrive in London?
I only arrived on the third of August because the rowers were racing on the same stretch of water at Eton Dorney as me – they overlapped by like a day, so we couldn't practice on the actual course. It didn't matter because I was training in Austria and there was a good course there.

Did you stay in the Athletes' Village?
When we were racing, the competition venue for the rowers and the kayakers was out near Windsor, we stayed in Surrey. I only moved to the main village on Friday after my race.

So you had won already and could relax?
Yes, it was amazing.

Do you mingle with other athletes from other countries?
I mingled with the athletes I knew. But because I was only there for the last few days we didn't meet anyone really famous. Just to know you're staying in the same area as Usain Bolt and all the other athletes is pretty amazing.

To talk about your race. Did you know it was going to be good?
I wasn't really sure. I only slept like four hours the night before I raced. I was a little bit nervous but I knew that my heat and my semi went well so I think I was starting to realise I had a good chance to get a medal but it wasn't guaranteed.

Have you raced against the athletes who won the gold and silver before?
I've raced against them quite a lot. Actually, I raced against the girl that got silver at the World Championships last year and in my semi-final she blew me out of the water. She was the gold medallist in Beijing; I think when I lined up against her I got so nervous that I let that feeling overwhelm me. Mentally, I put her on a level above me instead of seeing her as equal. I need to put us all as equals rather than any one above the other.

Was it a close run thing? Could you have done better?
My semi-final went really, really well. Finals are always hard. I'm happy with how it went but it didn't feel like my best race. I don't like dealing in what ifs. You can't really say how you could or should have done. It's all about how you can race on the day. That's what counts.

What were conditions like on the day?
The conditions were great. It wasn't your typical London weather; it warm and sunny. My heat and semi-final day was cold but the final day was perfect. People even got sunburnt! There was hardly any wind.

We watched you jump onto the medal podium. What does it feel like?
It was definitely the best day of my life and I really did get emotional because it's such a special event, it only takes place every four years and it's fantastic to get a medal and to stand there and see your flag rising up against the other two flags of other great nations. It's a proud moment.

Do you get to keep the medal?
Yes, that's yours forever.

Looking forward to Brazil?
Definitely. I don't feel like I've reached the peak of my career and I feel like I broke through a barrier in London. I've realised I can be one of the best in the world.

If youngsters were inspired to try kayaking what should they do?
I think the best way is to join a club. There are dangers in kayaking. You need to get help with the basics first.

Visit to learn more about Bridgitte.

Image: Getty

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