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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Forward Ho For Hercules In the Midmar Mile

It is going to be some battle in the elite divisions at the aQuellé Midmar Mile this weekend.

On the men's side, 2012 London Olympic 10K swimmer Troy Hercules Prinsloo will go up against 2008 Beijing Olympic 10K swimmer Chad Ho who has won the last 3 aQuellé Midmar Miles in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. Other than Ho, Ryk Neethling and Gareth Fowler have also achieved three victories in the world’s largest competitive open water swimming event.

Prinsloo was close to a three-peat before, but Mother Nature intervened. Prinsloo raced to victory in 2005 and 2006, but in 2007 bad weather led to the only cancellation of the race in its 40-year history.

Last year, Ho became the first man to win the open title three years in succession, but Prinsloo stands in the way of a fourth consecutive victory in what will be a mano-a-mano thriller in the Midmar Dam. "[The race] is something that I'm taking very seriously," he said. "My training hasn't really changed because my main focus is the 10 km, but it's something that I think about every day in training and I'll take a bit of rest in the week before the race, sharpening up and getting some speed. I would really love to win because it's a huge accomplishment."

The competition between three-time defending champion Ho and Prinsloo has been extremely close in recent years. That was never clearer than at the 2011 South Africa National Open Water Swimming Championships where they tied in the 10 km race and Prinsloo then edged Ho for the 5 km title by 0.32 seconds. "It was my second Olympics, but London was new for me as it was open water. I've been a pool swimmer my whole life, so I only started swimming the 10 km two years ago - and it was a good platform to start my open water career because [London] was only my third international 10 km," Prinsloo said. Placing 12th was something that I was really proud of. It is something that has given me confidence going into the next few years."

But Ho got the better of Prinsloo in the Midmar Mile last year, winning convincingly by 21 seconds. "We didn't start together last year, so I plan on starting together this time round," said Prinsloo. "That way we can be at the front of the race and put on a good show for everybody, so it's not a race where someone is gone by the first 400m mark."

Finding one’s direction in the open water can be a challenge; some swimmers focus on a point at the finish, but Prinsloo goes about it another way. "I focus more on the conditions than a point at the finish because there is so much to aim for at the end. If I can have a good start this year - last year I didn't have a good one at all - by starting with Chad, it will be a good race, especially with Mark Randall and Myles Brown, and [Frenchman] Sébastien Rouault also there."

While others look towards Ho, Ho has a different perspective. “I don’t really worry about the other challengers,” said the Durban star who is the only person to have won the Midmar Mile 3 years in succession. “I focus on myself and my own swim, what I have to do and try to just get to the other side as fast as possible.”

Other swimmers have narrowly missed completing a three-peat (winning 3 times in a row). Wayne Riddin, the race director for the past 21 years, won two in a row in 1975 and 1976, but was beaten by Paul Blackbeard in 1977. Jacques Marais won in 1978 and 1979, but missed in 1980. Graham Hill, South Africa’s head swimming coach at the 2012 London Olympic Games, won in 1985 and 1986, but was defeated by Shaun Rivalland in 1987. Paul Fryer won in 1992 and 1993, but was defeated by Ryk Neethling in 1994. Olympic gold medalist Ryk Neethling won in 1994 and 1995, but sat out in 1996 to focus on the Atlanta Olympic Games, although he later won in 2001 to become the first three-time winner among men.

After Ho because the first to three-peat, he admitted, “It meant a huge deal being the first person to do it in the 40 years of the event. Hopefully, I can continue that tradition and go on to four, five or even six. But we’ll take it one year at a time. I do not know why I have been so strong at Midmar in the past few years. I guess that it is just the competitive side of me coming through. I definitely look forward to Midmar every year. The Midmar Mile has always been a big part of my life and my family’s life. We’ve been part of it for many years. It’s one of those events we all look forward to and we give it our all.

Like Ky Hurst over in Australia, Ho has been balancing two different aquatic disciplines. “I’ve been doing a bit of lifesaving [and open water swimming] and been trying to balance the two. Like open water, conditions change every surf swim, so I think it has helped me a lot in my open water swimming and my open water swimming has helped my surf lifesaving, so they work hand-in-hand with each other. It’s working really well.”

It also helps that Ho’s competitive edge is being honed as he trains with 7-time Midmar Mile winner and world champion Keri-Anne Payne of Great Britain. Payne, quietly confident, has put her stamp on the Midmar in this century against all comers and in all conditions – as Ho is trying to do. “I play it by ear on the day [of the race]. I have to reassess my line if there is a big wind or a big chop. Usually I have my set line and I stick to it, but we will see what happens on the day.

The aQuellé Midmar Mile takes place on 9 and 10 February at the Midmar Dam, just outside Howick in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. For more info visit www.midmarmile.co.za.

Copyright © 2013 by Open Water Source

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