The race for the women’s title at the Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon was spiced up substantially with the entry of Olympic bronze medallist Bridgitte Hartley, who has teamed up with former K2 champ Robyn Kime for the two-day 82km race on 27 and 28 September.
Hartley, who has jetted home from the world sprint championships, where she featured in the A final of her key 500m K1 event, opted to race the Breede marathon last weekend with Kime as an opportunity to get in some important race time together before the Fish weekend.
Hartley took part in the Hansa Fish last year, racing in a K3 in support of the Corne Krige charity drive, but this year her she has teamed up with Kime to try and clinch a premier domestic river title to add to her impressive sprint and flatwater credentials.
“With the build-up to the next Olympics, this will be my last real chance to have a go at a major local race, and I would really like to win a big race before I get into the build-up to the Rio Games. It is important to me and my career,” said Hartley.
“I had so much fun doing the race in a K3 last year. After the Breede I am feeling really excited to do the Fish. It is also great to spend time with the other paddlers, as I tend to be away from home a lot during the year.”
Hartley, who is very much a “feel” paddler, said that combining with Kime had been easy, and she was able to adapt to her stroke and the demands of the river racing technique quickly.
“It hasn’t messed with my sprint technique at all,” said Hartley. “In fact when I got back into my sprint training this year after a summer doing river races in South Africa my coach actually said that my technique was better than it usually was at that stage in the year.”
Kime won the Hansa Fish K2 title with Michéle Eray in 2010, and has been one of the most consistent elite women’s marathoners in domestic river racing. She won the silver medal at the world marathon championships in her Under 23 age group in 2012.
“I have taken a long break from paddling, and have been trail running, so it felt good to get back into a boat again,” said Kime, who got back into serious training a month ago. “The Hansa Fish is one of the prime river titles – one of the majors, and it is one that we would love to win if we can,” she said.
The proposal to paddle together came after Kime’s successful defence of her Dusi title, when Hartley mooted the idea of paddling the early part of the summer season together. “We jumped into a boat together in Pietermaritzburg, just to see if we were comfortable.
“Then last weekend we did the Breede, and I am glad we did because it took us a while to settle down,” said Kime. “By the end of the second day we were completely settled in the boat.”
“I was also pleased with our fitness levels,” she added. “The Breede was full so the days were shorter, but we both felt good. Day one of the Fish will be over three hours, so I will keep working hard on my training for that.
“Bridgitte is super to paddle with in a K2,” said Kime. “She is stable and super solid, so I am looking forward to doing the Fish with her.”
Hartley will fly straight to Port Elizabeth from her commitments to the world marathon championships in Copenhagen, and should be in Cradock some time on the Tuesday of the race week.
“That will give us enough time to set the boat up and do trip the key sections before the race,” said Kime.
“Travel is not usually a problem for me because I sleep really well on the plane,” added Hartley. “I can never even make it through a movie!”
The pair will be locked in a needle tussle for the women’s laurels, as a number of top quality crews have entered the female division, including Michelle Burn and Danica Bartho, and both defending champions Hilary Pitchford and Abby Adie committed to racing with different partners this year.
Kime will be paddling in the colours of Stellenbosch University, where she is finishing her engineering masters degree. The club has a reputation of making the most of the Hansa Fish, both on and off the water.
Club protocol is unpredictable, but often requires their members to dye their hair, or complete specific feats during the race. Last year Kime was required to stand up in her K1 as she crossed the line, mimicking Andy Birkett’s signature move when he crosses the Dusi finish line.
“I haven’t heard what I will have to do this year, but I will just follow instructions when they come,” said Kime, who as a former chairperson of the club might receive some leniency from the current officialdom.
The Hansa Fish River Canoe marathon takes place on Friday 27 and Saturday 28 September. More information can be found at www.fishmarathon.org.za
(With editing by gsport)