The race for the women’s title at this weekend’s N3TC Drak Challenge was turned on its head with the surprise entry of London Olympic Games bronze medallist Bridgitte Hartley.
The star sprinter opted to enter the race at the last minute and will arrive in Underberg to familiarise herself with the technically challenging Umzimkulu river, a far cry from the 500m flat water sprinting races that have made her a household name in South Africa.
“I realised that I am not going to have much time to do a few river races before I get back to sprinting, so I jumped at the chance to do this race,” said Hartley.
The Richards Bay based star has been battling with an ear infection this week which has side-lined her from training. However she is going into the weekend’s two-day 70km race through Underberg with an open mind.
“I really am just going out there to enjoy myself,” said Hartley.
She entered the recent The Unlimited Ozzie Gladwin under the same premise, where her competitive nature kicked in, and she led across the dam, and eventually finished second to Abby Adie.
Hartley is not a Drak novice, having competed in the 2004 Drak Challenge as a young rookie paddler.
“I don’t remember too much about the race, but I remember it was really good fun, and the water was crystal clear. I don’t remember swimming too much, but I was pretty much a novice then,” she recalls.
“I remember the names of some of the rapids like Black Murray and Heaven And Hell, so I am hoping to get up to Underberg in time to go and have a look at the river before the race,” said Hartley.
The N3TC Drak Challenge 2013 starts on 19 January at Castleburn outside Underberg and finishes on 20 January at Early Mist Farm close to Coleford. More information can be found here.