28 Marzo 2024

A pad and pen have never been too far away from Bridgitte Hartley as she continues to jot down notes during a day on the water. 

From her days as an Olympic paddler aiming to give herself an edge over her rivals to now as a canoeing coach at a school in South Africa looking to get the best out of her students, Hartley has been a prolific note taker. 

“I think I have got too much data just written down on a piece of paper which should probably be in a digital form now,” said Hartley. 

“At first I had a training diary when I was an athlete and I just wrote down everything, so how I felt, what I did, what my heart rate was, my time trial times and little things along the way like how training camps went. 

“I was able to look back and see what mood I was in and how that affected my training. 

“I think this is one of the i things that have contributed to me enjoying the coaching role that I have now.” 

Hartley’s self-analytical approach clearly helped her carve out a successful career as an athlete. 

The South African made history at London 2012 when she became the first paddler from Africa to win an Olympic medal in Canoe Sprint courtesy of her women’s K1 500 bronze. 

She also claimed three world medals between 2009 and 2018 and is a multiple African Games champion. 

South Africa Bridgette Hartley

Before announcing her retirement in March 2023, Hartley had already started making the transition to becoming a coach. 

“As much as I didn’t want to stop being an athlete it wasn’t bringing in money as I wasn’t getting funding in South Africa to represent my country,” said Hartley. 

“I had to say to myself that if I don’t start working now I may end up doing a corporate job where I would be sat behind a desk and that’s a difficult transition from being an athlete for half my life.” 

Hartley has been working as the master in charge of canoeing at Maritzburg College in the South African city of Pietermaritzburg since 2022. 

It’s an all-boys’ high school and sees Hartley work with students ranging from under 14s to under 18s. 

“I am not like many other coaches who use a motorboat as we don’t have that option,” said Hartley. 

“But I enjoy being on the water paddling with the boys as their coach. 

“I am always challenging them and pushing them. 

“I have learnt a lot along the way because initially it was quite daunting. 

“You have got an athlete trusting you 100 per cent. 

Bridgitte Hartley coach Maritzburg College

“As they start to improve and focus on certain events it does become a bit of more pressurised as you ask yourself whether you have pushed them enough or given them enough confidence.  

“It’s sometimes just about keeping them calm on race day and telling them that you have done the training and you can do this, giving them that mental support.” 

As well as working at Maritzburg College, Hartley was elected as Chair of the International Canoe Federation Athletes’ Commission.

Hartley was instrumental in ensuring that the athletes' declaration was adopted during the 2022 ICF Congress.

The 40-year-old was also part of the ICF’s Talent Identification Programme, coaching athletes at last year’s Junior and U23 Canoe Sprint World Championships in Auronzo, Italy. 

“It was really amazing,” said Hartley. 

“Working with the African athletes is something that is close to my heart.  

“I raced in South Africa for the first time in 2005 when there were very few African countries paddling. 

“Now you have got kayakers and canoeists from Senegal, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Kenya and Angola – it’s so incredible. 

“When I worked on the TIP programme I had two Egyptian boys as well as one from Morocco and then a few others from Europe so it was really special to be able to help them at such a big competition.” 

Hartley is on the International Olympic Committee’s Women in Sport High Performance Pathway (WISH) leadership programme. 

WISH coaches

The WISH scheme has been designed to equip female coaches who have the potential and ambition to succeed at the highest level. 

Hartley is joined on the programme by fellow female paddling coaches Adriana Valderrama Morones of Mexico, Sara Timea Seprenyi of Hungary and Wei-Han Chen of Chinese Taipei. 

“There is a real mix of girls from different sports and it’s incredible because it’s so nice to learn from each other,” added Hartley. 

“I had only just started coaching when I joined the WISH programme, but I did set some goals that I would love to get some of my boys to represent South Africa as juniors and get some medals. 

“I am not sure if I would ever be a coach at an Olympics, but I still wrote it down that it might be something that I end up doing. 

“The WISH programme is an amazing platform, making us look at what is possible. 

“Now they have challenged us to set a five-year plan.  

“I have only ever done that for kayaking when there is a cycle of World Cups and World Championships.  

“I have never had to say ‘In five years’ time this is what I want out of my life and job and how will I achieve that’. 

“You have to think a bit deeper and write it down.”

Related links

Canoe Sprint