South African sprint canoe star Bridgitte Hartley carries realistic medal hopes into the London Olympic Games after a remarkable performance in qualifying for the event.
The South African Sports Commission and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) required Hartley to prove her medal potential in international competition, which she attempted to do at the World Championhips in Szeged, Hungary in August 2011.
Matters didn't look good when she failed to qualify for the A-final. Undeterred, Hartley responded in the best possible way, flying to victory in the B-final in a world record time of 1:46.90, which would have won her the A-final by a tenth of a second.
She represented South Africa four years ago at the Beijing Olympics, competing in the K2 500m with Michelle Eray. Despite having paddled only three months together, they made it into the semi-finals.
The following year, in 2009, Hartley became the first African to medal at the ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships when she placed third in the K1 1 000 metres in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada.
She finished just over a second behind Hungarian great Katalin Kovacs, who also won the 500 metres title, and about half-a-second behind second placed Franziska Weber of Germany.
World Cup success
Hartley has tasted gold medal success in World Cup events too, indicating that she has the goods to make it onto the podium.
Last year, she was crowned the overall ICF World Cup series champion, which underlined her consistency competing at the top levels of the sport.
Interviewed by Graeme Joffe on News24 in March, Hartley said: "I never dreamt 10 years ago that I would be competing in the Olympics.
"I have always been an athlete and I have always been competitive, but I have never been a top athlete in any particular sport until I took up paddling," Hartley said.
The right coach
"I found the right coach as well, and I think just to stay determined, and keep persevering because eventually you are going to get that reward and if you keep your goal in sight, and you keep going for it, you will definitely achieve it."
The coach Hartley referred to is Hungarian Nandor Almasi, a former South African national coach, who helped Ruth Nortje finish seventh in the K1 500 metres in the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and Alan van Coller finish eighth in the men's event.
He has also coached Shaun Rubenstein, who has excelled in everything from sprints to marathon, and sprinter Jen Hodson, who made the K1 500m final at the Beijing Olympics.
'Getting it right on the day'
Hartley knows she can win in London, which was underlined in her comment to the Zululand Observer in April. "It's all about getting it right on the day," she said.
"I have beaten the top contenders before in World Cup events and if I am blessed with an injury-free preparation, I will be ready for the challenge."