It’s showtime for Ho

2013-02-09 00:00

THIS weekend’s 40th Midmar Mile is shaping up to be a showdown between two of South Africa’s best open-water swimmers, Chad Ho and Troy Prinsloo.

Ho aims to add another chapter of history to the event as he seeks his fourth consecutive win, while Prinsloo is quietly determined to break the momentum and make up for the cruel luck that denied him his hat-trick of wins when the race was called off for the first and only time in 2007, due to harsh weather.

Prinsloo has openly stated his intentions in the build-up to the race, saying: “I am taking this seriously and winning is a huge accomplishment.”

Winning is nothing new for Prinsloo and knowing how to win, he just needs to fine-tune his tactics to be there at the finish.

“Sticking with Chad from the start is key. If I let him get away I have all the extra work to do,” he said.

Ho, who has made the race his own, has been circumspect in his approach, but is quietly confident of adding a fourth title.

Last year he made it look easy, defeating Prinsloo by 21 seconds, but it’s a new year and a new race.

Said Ho: “I tend to dominate early in the race, opening a gap and getting breathing space between myself and any serious challengers. Maybe It’s because I have a deep love for the event that it tends to bring the best out of me.”

This year, while knowing what training is needed to remain at the top, Ho has added lifesaving and open-water swimming to his schedule. However, he knows the final say in what happens on the day is invariably left to the elements.

“It doesn’t matter how much training you do, it’s what the dam looks like on the day. It can all change and have to take into consideration whether the wind is strong or there’s a big chop, things which affect my line once the race has started,” he said.

Other serious contenders in the men’s race include Myles Brown and Mark Randall, respected South African distance swimmers. Although mainly a pool specialist, Randall has notched up some solid open-water wins leading up to the mile, while Brown won the 800 m title in quick time at the BHP Billiton Aquatic Super Series in Perth last month.

Frenchman Sebastien Rouault arrives with the European men’s 800 m and 1500 m titles to his name and should have no trouble with the distance.

For the women, there is one name which has dominated in recent years — Keri-Anne Payne — who, although swimming for Britain, was born in Johannesburg and is still seen by many as a local. She is the Bruce Fordyce of the women’s race, winning an unprecedented seven times, including the past four years. She won the 13-and-under title before leaving her mark in the senior ranks and has eclipsed the record of six wins previously held by Natasha Figge.

Said Payne: “I was spurred on by my dad who has done 15 swims. He said to me he did not think there would be another swimmer as good as Natasha, and there and then my goal was set and I am happy to have raised the bar higher.”

Payne finished fourth at last year’s London Olympics in the women’s 10km open-water swim and is keen to add another Midmar title to her CV. She has gone about it with a purpose, training with Ho, who trained with her in Spain, before the Olympics.

Said Payne: “He was a massive help and I have arrived a little earlier than usual to get some distance into my training. I’ve spent some time out the water but I feel no pressure to win. I have the record number of wins and have proven myself, so this year is about enjoyment and taking one competition at a time.”

Chasing Payne all the way is last year’s runner-up, American Ashley Twichell, who missed the title by a mere two seconds after a fantastic dice with Payne. Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu is also favoured for a podium finish after sterling performances in the open-water events at the Fina/Arena World Cup Series.

Trying to grab the title for South Africa are Rene Warnes, who was fifth last year and the first South African home in the woman’s race, and World Youth champion Michelle Weber. An outsider is Marlies Ross, who has a 13-and-under title to her name and is quickly adapting to swimming in the senior ranks.

Looking at the form book, the men’s race definitely looks to be down to Ho and Prinsloo, while it remains to be seen whether Payne has the hunger on the day to stretch her dominance to eight titles.

Either way, there looks to be a South African winner in at least one of main races.

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