Champ faces top-notch field

2010-02-13 00:00

THE women’s race in the 37th Halfway Telkom Midmar Mile is set to be one of the most keenly contested races in the world- famous event’s illustrious history.

Defending champion and five-time winner Keri-Anne Payne of the UK is set to start as the favourite in a field that boasts the largest international participation ever assembled at KwaZulu-Natal’s picturesque Midmar Dam.

Payne, who is the world 10 km champion, a title she claimed comfortably at the World Championships in Rome, was recently voted Swimming World Magazine’s female open-water swimmer of the year.

She originally hails from Johannesburg, and has always been the crowd favourite at the world’s largest open-water swimming event.

However, Payne can expect a strong challenge from German ace Nadine Pastor, whom Payne edged out for top honours in the 2009 event. Pastor posted the fastest last 400 metres in that race, despite having swum a five kilometre and 10 km event in the preceding 72 hours!

Pastor, the current German 10 km champion, is the most improved contestant in the 2009 Fina 10 km Marathon Swimming World Cup circuit, where she gained numerous podium finishes.

Pastor also claimed victory in the 2009 British Gas Great North Swim after a stunning performance, completing the one-mile open-water course in 18 minutes and 14 seconds. She was followed by promising British junior Katy Whitfield (18:15) in second place and the Olympic champion, Russia’s Larisa Ilchenko (18:16), in third.

With Whitfield in the powerful British team that is set to compete at the 2010 Midmar Mile, a highly competitive swim is certainly on the cards.

Former butterfly ace and British national open-water swimming performance director Mark Perry commented on Thursday: “British Swimming is excited to be racing in one of the most famous open- water races in the world.

“It’s a great opportunity for our athletes to race in warm weather early in the year, and we are looking forward to both the experience and the South African hospitality.

“The team is a mixture of experienced world-class internationals and emerging young talent. While the team are all going to be racing in their heaviest training period, we still expect them to race tough and step up to the bar.”

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