The Curse of the Wooden Medal

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Marathon Racing is taking a lot of flack right now, with the ICF releasing new rules and a 30 second penalty box similar to water-polo for paddling offenses. It’s been interesting to read the discussion on the FaceBook page where some of the sports greats are debating the rules.

For me personally, nothing beats racing my surfski, that being said, marathons are a great way to stay fit and the racing is intense!

Over the past few years I have had some success racing the World Championships, with a bronze medal at my first ever Worlds in Gyor, Hungary in the WK2 with Nikki Mocke.

Racing to a bronze medal in 2007

Racing to a bronze medal in 2007

After that I stayed away from marathons until Portugal in 2009 which was a hard race, top 10 in the K1, and a DNF in the K2. The following year began my “Wooden Medal” curse.

After a terrible start in the K1 race, I managed to catch up and race a fantastic 26km, until the last portage and a small hiccup, leading to being out sprinted for the bronze. The first of my “Wooden” medals.

Banyoles 2010

Banyoles 2010

The following day Bridgitte Hartley and I hopped in a double, and once again, got out sprinted for the bronze, #2 of my “wooden gongs”.

2011 saw me injured and miss the Worlds in Singapore. The following year in Rome, saw my 3rd “wooden” medal in the K2 with Robyn Kime. Not out sprinted this time, a nasty penultimate portage saw us lose the bunch and therefore be out of contention.

Rome 2012

Rome 2012

This year see the World Marathon Champs (new rules and all) being raced in Copenhagen. I am in the K2 with Bridgitte Hartley again. Lets see if we can turn my curse around! Here is the link to the website: Click me

However, first up is the FIRST EVER OFFICIAL WORLD SURFSKI CHAMPS in Portugal in 4.5 weeks time! I can’t tell you how excited I am about this. A huge step forward for the sport of SurfSki, and a pretty cool event to be a part of! I can’t wait!

icf ski logo

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EuroTrip 2012 so far…

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So far my trip has been AWESOME! I basically hit the ground running, and have only now started to relax and have some time to do  normal day-to-day things, like write this blog post!

Unfortunately I picked up a nasty chest infection before I was due to leave SA, which meant I had to miss the first race on my schedule, the Crestuma marathon in Portugal. It did mean I got to spend the weekend in London, which was the Olympic opening weekend. I managed to get tickets to the opening concert in Hyde Park, which was spectacular. Catching up with old friends, and memories of the short stint I did in London back in 2003, all made the first weekend a great experience.

Before I could get too comfortable, I jetted off to Asturias, in the North of Spain, for the International Descent of the River Sella! This race has been on my to-do list for a very long time. My first coach, and the guy who played a major role in not only teaching me to paddle, but also creating my work/training ethic and general attitude towards training and racing, won this event back in 1997. I always remember him telling me these cray stories about this race. The masses of people, party goers, the manic start and the great vibe.

Here is a short video clip about this year’s race, showing the crazy start:

Here are some photo’s from the race:

Michele Sergio and Birgit, tripping before the race

Team RSA

The race can only be described as crazy! The start is not in batches like at home, so over a thousand paddlers line up along the banks of the river, for one mass start! And it’s shallow. This year in particular was pretty low!

I had a great race, and ended up winning the women’s K1 race, just 2 minutes off Mara Santos record set in flood conditions. I will definitely be back, maybe in a K2!

Thanks so much to Fernando and Florentino of Parreskayaks for all their help, the boat and their perfect English!

The best English speakers in all of Arriondas!

The next day I got fetched my my “manager” Gonzalo, of Elite Kayak. Thanks for all your help, from translating, to boats to lifts! I was paddling a K2 race in Busto’s hometown of Villaviciosa with Danish Marathon paddler Birgit Pontoppidan. The race was pretty short, only 6km, but with the rushing tide and wind, it made for some tough racing. We paddled hard and ended up with a 3rd place behind Sella K2 2012 Champs Mara and partner from Spain, and the Argentinian crew.

Birgit, me & Team Manager Gonzalo

Monday we headed off to Riba de Sella (where the Sella Descent ended) to race a K4 event. Initially  was going to paddle with Ant and Cam, but luckily they found some male partners and I ended up paddling with Birgit and 2 young Spanish Junior paddlers. After getting seeded right in the worst position, we made a great tactical start, and were in 2nd place. After some hard racing we ended up in 3rd, with 2 tired but stoked Juniors!

K4 race in Riba de Sella

And that was that, one super duper week in Spain! Thanks to Ant for being chief organiser, and to Fernando & Florentino for all their help and the boat, and Gonzalo for being the best manager ever!

I got back to London in time to see Bridgitte smash her final at the Olympics and take South Africa’s first ever canoeing Olympic medal! All her hard work and sacrifice has paid off and I am very happy to see this around her neck!

Nandor!

The Olympics were amazing, London put on such a great show! I am looking forward to Rio! Now we just need Ocean Ski to become an Olympic sport…

Tourist

I got to see some special friends that I haven’t seen in years, and make some new ones! Thanks to Nelo and the Legends at #47 for making me feel so welcome and my stay so great!

With the craziness of London, the Olympics and trying to fit in some training sessions, I am relieved to be in Poole with my friends Chloe and Pete, for some surf ski training ahead of the Nelo Summer Challenge. The wind has been blowing, and we are getting some great sessions in. Can’t wait to get there!

Highs and Lows

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It’s funny how things work out. Expect the unexpected, always.

I had a 4 week trip planned, as I mentioned in a previous post. 2 weeks in the US, 2 in Portugal. 6 races, a lot of flights, and much fun to be had.

I picked up tendonitis in my wrist a few days before I was meant to leave. I thought an anti-inflammatory injection would sort it out, as I had visited this particular scenario 5 years before (although that involved 50km of Cape Point paddling, and a highly staked Foosball game), and this was the solution that finally kicked the butt of an annoying, and frustrating over-use injury. Hence if something works… So I repeated it, hoping for that same result. The body changes, as does the mind, and the cortisone did nothing for me, and even less for my wrist. One painful paddle under the Golden Gate Bridge had me reaching for the wrist brace, and the whisperings of a terrible thought started in the depths of my brain. 10 minutes into the actual race a few days later, with a stabbing pain in my wrist, making it increasingly difficult to paddle, let alone enjoy the runs, and that terrible thought became a reality. I would have to cancel the rest of my trip and head home. No point in flogging a dead horse! Best to head back to SA, get the wrist sorted and get back into training. I still have the Fish River Marathon in October to think about, as well as World Marathon Champs in Singapore later the same month.

So began my Low. Not only did I want to defend my titles in Portugal, but I was worried it would take a long time to heal, in effect ruining the rest of my 2011 season. I especially wanted to race the Nelo Summer Challenge. Not many races and event organisors respect the women paddlers out there enough to actually offer equal prize money. I really try to show my support to those that do, and the Nelo Summer Challenge is one of the few. Gutted to miss it.

I had a week planned at my friend Kate in Beaver Creek, Colorado before heading to Portugal. I was hoping to get in a lot of training-trail running and whitewater, but with my wrist and upcoming races over, I decided to just enjoy my trip, and really try to see and do as much as possible. Enter Kate, the World’s Best Host and Tour Guide!

And so began the High. And I mean HIGH! Beaver Creek sits at about 8000 feet above sea level. My first run left me gasping after only 3 minutes. Not one, but many, old folk passed me walking their dogs while I stood holding my sides, wondering where all the oxygen went.

What an amazing place! There is way too much to do. We went rafting, SUP down some small rapids (although on that board they were actually pretty challenging!) hiking, Jeep 4×4 trip, my first Rodeo and even a Demolition Derby! Americans… Such a diverse place, and I only saw a tiny smidgen of the place.

Corn Dog

We drove up and over Independence Pass, at a lung crushing 12 100ft, into Leadville (10 200ft) where the infamous Leadville 100 miler trail running race takes place.  We wished SA’s Ryan Sandes good luck, before he went out and won the event in the 3rd fastest time in the history of the race!

Spent the last night in Boulder. Great place that, oozing with sporting talent and great little eating spots. Met up with Dan Hugo and some of his training buddies. I see why he has picked this as a training base.

Unfortunately it was time to board the 1st of 5 flights to get home. Quite a trip, especially when the first 3 were delayed by hours. The real low point was sitting in a hot, overbooked flight with no aircon waiting for it to be repaired. I kept thinking, should we be flying in this plane? Anyway, the high point came on the final 2 flights, 3 seats to myself, great food, and awesome service on Qatar Airways! 3 days later I got home, love that my dog is always so stoked to see me!

Hoping this wrist heals really fast, as I am going nuts not paddling! So it’s lots of running and cross training at the moment, and easing back into the paddling. 8 weeks until Marathon World Champs. I am hoping I haven’t lost too much. The Low’s have been frustrating, however, maybe the rest has been a good thing, it has been ages since I have had a break from paddling that is longer than 1 week!

Thanks Kate for having me and keeping me super busy! I think we might have done all the fun things to be done in Colorado!

Paddling and being a full time athlete can make one so selfish and self-absorbed. While I was away there was a terrible shark attack in Plett (my hometown). Local surfer Tim van Heerden lost his life doing something he loved. I was moping around just because I couldn’t train and race and the Lowest of Lows happens.

Makes you think. RIP Tim.

To end on a happy note, here is one final beautiful photo and the great news that Bridgitte Hartley qualified for the London Olympics by paddling the fastest 500m time in history! Go Bliggie!

That’s my K2 Partner:)

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Hartley On Top Of The World

Posted by Marc Cloete in International

BligPretoria – Bridgitte Hartley’s stellar year got even better yesterday when it was announced that she had placed first in the overall ICF World Cup competition. Over the course of the three international World Cup regattas, Hartley accumulated more points than any other competitor, meaning she has consistently been the world’s top performer in women’s sprint kayaking over the past two months. Hartley received the news online, and had to hold back her emotions. “I just wanted to scream and cry together, but the internet café was not the appropriate place to do this!” she said afterwards. At the beginning of the year, Hartley had set herself the lofty goal of placing in the top three at the end of the World Cup season, and she was ecstatic to have overachieved on it. The overall rankings for the World Cups only take the Olympic-distance 500m races into account, and with a gold, a bronze and a seventh place from the three regattas, Hartley finished on top of the standings, two points ahead of German icon and 5-times Olympic medalist Katrin Wagner-Augustin. Top Danish sprinter Henriette Engel-Hansen was a further eight points behind in third place. However, Hartley’s success wasn’t confined to the 500m races and her results over all distances were outstanding. The K1 star took herself to the first World Cup of the year in Racice, Czech Republic, and as the only athlete representing South Africa had to perform the dual role of administrator and competitor. The load didn’t seem to weigh too heavily on her shoulders as she won bronze medals in the K1 1000m and 500m events, and capped the weekend with gold in the 5000m race. She was joined two weeks later by the rest of the national squad as they set out for the Poznan World Cup in Poland. With more athletes taking part from around the world, and the competition even tougher, she was able to hold on to her good form to win two more bronze medals in the K1 1000m and 5000m races. Saving the best for last, Hartley was on fire for the third and final World Cup in Szeged, Hungary – the traditional home of sprint paddling. In a star-studded final of the K1 500m race, Hartley raced to the gold medal ahead of two Beijing Olympic medalists to claim the biggest win of her career. She followed that up with yet another bronze in the K1 1000m event. In less than a month, the ace South African sprinter had won 7 medals against some of the toughest competitors on the world’s water. Hartley was full of praise for her coach Nandor Almasi, as well as her sponsors. She also thanked the the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund for their funding of the sport, and the facilities and support at the High Performance Centre in Pretoria. “Being a member of the Tuks club my little 400m pond is not adequate for good training sessions, so another ingredient was the Centurion Club at Rietvlei and the Academy Canoe Club at Roodeplaat for access to the dam and training facilities, as well as the MTK club in Hungary which was my base between the World Cups,” she added. Hartley has just less than two months left to prepare for the Sprint World Championships, which are to be staged in Dartmouth, Canada from August 12 to 16.

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