Chad Ho claimed a record seventh Midmar Mile title in succession while Michelle Weber become the first South African woman to take victory since Melissa Corfe in 2003.
Ho was pushed hard by his training partner Matthew Meyer, with Meyer winning each of the hotspots at 400m, 800m and 1 200m, but the five-kilometre open water world champion pulled clear over the last 400 metres to secure a hard-fought but convincing victory in a time of 17:00, which improved the race record he had set last year by four seconds.
“I knew Matthew was going to be a challenge,” Ho said in an interview with The Witness afterwards.
“He is swimming incredibly well in the pool, about a 15:25 1 500 metres. I tried to stick with him. I knew he was trying to go for the hotspots. I didn’t try too much to fight him for them. I tried to reserve my energy for the end and for the last 400 m, because I knew that was when it would count the most.
“Just after the last hotspot, I shifted a bit to the left and shifted gear. I saw that was when he fell behind and that is when I really put heart into it and went for the finish.”
Michael McGlynn, a very consistent performer in the Midmar Mile over the years, finished in third place, with Danie Marais in fourth and Josh Dannhauser placing fifth.
Michelle Weber, who flew the South African flag in open water swimming with Ho at the Fina World Championships in Kazan, Russia, last year, powered off the starting line to take an early lead in the women’s race.
Immediately after she had claimed the first hotspot, British swimmer Holly Hibbott moved up on to her shoulder, with Charlise Oberholzer joining them at the front of the field. Hibbott was first through halfway, but at the 1 200 metre mark she and Weber could not be separated.
At the business end of the race, however, Weber put in a spurt to pull clear of Hibbott and capture a win she had been dreaming about.
“This is my ninth time doing the Midmar Mile, my sixth time trying to win the race. It is something that I wanted for so long. I’m so happy. It’s been one of my goals for such a long time to win this race,” she said with a big smile.
“I thought to myself ‘there is no way a British girl or anyone else is going to win this year’. I thought ‘South Africa has to win. With a race in South Africa, that is only right.”
Oberholzer crossed the line in third, with Rene Warnes in fourth and Carmen le Roux in fifth.
There was an incredible swim from former South African swimming great Paul Blackbeard, who travelled from Australia for the event. Competing in the 51-60 age group, he left much younger opposition in his wake to win his age group and the race (apart from the Eight Mile Club’s Tyrone Kruger) in a record time of 19:30.
“It was a little bit choppy, but not too bad. I have actually swum the Midmar Mile when it has been a lot worse,” the 1977 champion said.
“The wind behind me helped as well. I was hoping for around 20 minutes, so I was pleased with that.”
A group of eight swimmers swam 16 miles to raise funds for the Dusi uMngeni Conservation Trust (Duct), with Gary Albertyn consistently finishing near the front of each event and helping his family claim the family relay title on Saturday.
One of the biggest stories of the weekend was the success of the Safe Swimmer device, which was provided by the organisers and which proved to be extremely popular.
Wayne Riddin, in his 25th and final year of heading up the organisation of the event, was pleased.
“What I was impressed with was the number of people taking it voluntarily, because on Saturday we had the one heat where it was compulsory. Nobody complained. They all swam with them. Even the Eight Milers swam with them, so it was obviously not affecting them.
“In the first batches we have seen a lot more of the safety devices than I would have expected. I thought more of the backmarkers would wear them,” said Riddin.
“I hope people see this as another trend that we have started in open water swimming, because we tend to give people other ideas, which they follow.”
It was confirmed yesterday that the money raised for charities had already topped the R1,5 million mark.
The total entry for this year’s event was over 12 000 swimmers.
1. Chad Ho 17:00
2. Matthew Meyer 17:03
3. Michael McGlynn 17:38
4. Danie Marais 17:44
5. Josh Dannhauser 17:44
6. Tyrone Kruger 17:46
7. Marwan el Kamash (Egy) 17:51
8. Jordan le Clos 18:09
9. Brendan Levy 18:13
10. Reuben Schoeman 18:14
1. Michelle Weber 19:10
2. Holly Hibbot (GBR) 19:12
3. Charlise Oberholzer 19:17
4. Rene Warnes 19:34
5. Carmen le Roux 19:38
6. Lucy McKenzie (GBR) 19:53
7. Marné Frylinck 20:48
8. Sasha-Lee Nordengen 21:01
9. Jessica Whelan 21:01
10. Dané Steyn 21:05