Thousands take up Midmar Mile challenge

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It was a day for South African celebrations as the Durban duo of Robyn Kinghorn and Michael McGlynn wrapped up the women and men’s titles at the aQuellé Midmar Mile on Sunday.

International swimmers have dominated the elite events in recent years with the last double home victory coming in 2016 from Michelle Weber and Chad Ho. Those 2016 champions, who are both looking towards Tokyo 2020 Olympic qualification later in the year, were aiming for a repeat of that feat in this year’s race, but were beaten in dominant fashion.

Both Kinghorn and McGlynn mastered the choppy conditions to perfection. They powered to the front of their respective races early and could not be caught over the mile-long course.

Kinghorn chose a line across the dam that was well to the right of the chasing pack and it proved to work as she stayed in front to reach the finish in 21 minutes 16.

Samantha Randle finished in second place 11 seconds later with Victoria Earle in third in 21:30. 2016 champion Weber was fourth.

“I’m burning on the inside but I’m extremely happy with my race,” said 20-year-old Kinghorn afterwards. “Everyone today swam their hearts out, I know that.

“The chop was extremely bad so looking up I did get quite a few waves in my face. I didn’t really know where I was going, so swimming along and seeing the others in a bunch was quite concerning, but I just went for it and put my head down.”

The men’s race saw McGlynn also well out in front from the start as he relished the challenge of the rough conditions. Having finished second in last year’s race, the Durban swimmer was determined he’d finish in front this time, reaching the shore in 18 minutes 26.

Seven-time champion Ho was second in 19:02 and Henré Louw finished in third spot five seconds later.

Describing how he chose which line to take across the dam, McGlynn said: “I decided to just go with what felt right and that was the middle. It changes every year. I just put my head down and went for it.

“I tried to look back a few times, but you know that saying ‘don’t look back’ – so I just carried on going. I’m a sea swimmer as well so these conditions kind of played into my hands today and it was my day.

“Maybe if it was flat it would have been under 17 minutes. I was 17:28 last year so in these conditions 18 doesn’t matter – it was just about getting the job done,” added McGlynn whose brother Chris finished in sixth place.

“It’s my first win and I’m glad I could do it for South Africa as well. Midmar Mile is very prestigious. My first win, I’m 20 – I’m happy.”

Earlier in the day before the wind picked up American Lexie Kelly once again dominated in her age category, winning the women’s 31-40 race in 22:36.

“It was so awesome, it was so smooth. The water was really glassy. I got in a nice little pack with some guys and had a really good line and a beautiful swim,” she said afterwards.

“My goal is to win the full decade from 30 and over and this is my fourth win in a row.”

One of the most impressive swims of the day came from 1977 Midmar champion Paul Blackbeard who emerged as the overall winner of the second event of the day, for swimmers 13 and under and 30 and over. The soon-to-be 62-year-old emerged from the water in 21:34 to also top the 61-70 category.

“It was better than yesterday. Still a bit bumpy but it was a nice swim and the water is nice and clean so it’s lovely. I thought there would be a 13-year-old much closer to me so that was a bit of a surprise that a 61 year old can win it,” said the former South Africa star who is now based in Perth and owns every Australian record in his age group from 100 to 1500m freestyle.

“I’m training quite hard for a 20km swim that I’m doing in two weeks’ time so I’m kind of in the diesel motor mode at the moment so this was a sprint now.”

Meanwhile, among the future stars of the sport, Bailey Forrest won the girls 13 and under race in 23:39 and Connor Reinders won the boys 13 and under category in 22:48.

Also making his way across the dam on Sunday was former world champion Gerhard Zandberg who represented South Africa at four World Championships and two Olympic Games, but chiefly in the far shorter backstroke events.

“It was quite far. Maybe at 500-600m you start looking up and seeing if it’s getting any closer,” he admitted with a laugh. “I think because you’re swimming in a straight line it’s difficult to judge how far you’re going. It’s tough for me. I like the shorter stuff. To swim for 20-25 minutes full speed in choppy water is a challenge but I like it, it’s fun. It’s my fourth one.”

Elsewhere, Ebrahim Mahomed from Pietermaritzburg was determined to finish his first ever aQuellé Midmar Mile. It took him 1 hour 28 minutes and 5 seconds but that didn’t matter. The disabled swimmer, who received a massive cheer at the finish, explained: “My daughter has been swimming for the last two or three years and I only learnt how to swim last year after watching her swim.

“It was a fantastic experience. I did it yesterday but there was some lightning so they stopped the race for safety reasons when I had about 300m left, so I wanted to do it again today. It was tough today after yesterday’s race but we managed,” he added, joking that his next mission is to beat his daughter.

Photo: Chad Ho, Michael McGlynn and Henre-Louw.

The first day of the 47th edition of the aQuellé Midmar Mile got off to a soggy start but ended bathed in sunshine as four of the weekend’s eight races took place at Midmar Dam just outside Pietermaritzburg.

The world’s largest open water swimming event attracted over 13,000 entries who braved the morning rain to tackle the mile-long course across the famous dam.

The Albertyns from Pretoria once again dominated the Family Relay, scooping up an impressive fourth title. Son, Connor, was the first swimmer out the water in the race in 18:56. His sister, Kaitlyn, was ninth in 20:42 with father Gary (who is completing a gruelling 16 miles over the weekend) alongside her in 10th in 20:43. Mom, Megan, was not far behind in 22nd in 23:02. Only the Dias family now hold more titles in the event with five.

“It was a tough start – very choppy – but it was a good race. It’s always good to race the family event and the pressure mounts, but luckily it’s more on Gary and Caitlyn and Connor than it is on me,” said Megan afterwards, confirming that the family all plan to tackle the 16-mile challenge next year.

“One of the things about our family is that we love challenges and I think all four of us doing 16 miles next year would be an incredible challenge and one that I don’t think too many people can do.

“I think as a family it’s such a bonding weekend, we have so much fun, sharing that experience so that’s the plan. I think I need to train harder. I’m the one that trains the least but come 2021, we’ll hopefully have four Albertyns doing 16 miles.”

Earlier, there were some familiar faces among the winners in the first event of the day. Aaron Putz emerged as the first of the disabled swimmers from the water, claiming top honours in the intellectually impaired category in 22 minutes 39, and 2000 Olympic silver medallist Terence Parkin (also a two-time winner of the main race at Midmar) came top of the deaf swimmers in 23:04.

Paralympic gold medallist Shireen Shapiro claimed the win in the women’s physically disabled race, finishing in 28 minutes 10.

Another of the recognisable faces emerging from the dam on day one was South Africa’s 13-time Paralympic champion Natalie du Toit, who also famously competed in the Olympics in open water swimming. She retired from the sport in 2012 but returns to Midmar Dam every year to participate in the event.

“I only do one swim a year to come out and support the Teddy Bear Foundation and raise some funds for them, so it was a good swim. It was a little choppy out there for me, but I’m really unfit,” she admitted.

“I haven’t raced since 2012 so I don’t train anymore – I just come in to swim Midmar. It’s fun to come out and have a great day with your family.”

For many first-timers, just reaching the finish line was an achievement.

“This was my first time. It’s great, I feel awesome and I’m so glad I finished it,” said Sibu Simelane from Pietermaritzburg, who only started swimming two years ago. “I was inspired by a colleague that swims as well. I came here last year to support him, so I said this year I’ll join. My first swim was the Capital K in December and I didn’t finish – I panicked – so I pushed myself to finish this one. I’m so proud and grateful today.”

Meanwhile, it was the Deloitte team of Lauren and Natalie Billson, Gareth Wyllie, Paul Gregory and Tiaan van Wyk, who came out tops in the Company Relay while Team Traincamp, which included several of the country’s rising swimming stars (Bailey Musgrave, Luca Holtzhausen, Tory Earle, Rebecca Meder and Guy Brooks) claimed the spoils in the final event of the day, the Non-Company Relay.

SA’s national swimming coach Graham Hill hailed the success of the event and the impact it has on the sport in the country.

“What Wayne [Riddin] has done with this event is remarkable. I don’t think people really understand how big this event is, how well-organised it is, and what he’s made it into. It’s probably one of the best open water events in the world and is the biggest.

“For SA Swimming and watersport in South Africa, I don’t think any other event can match this – it’s a truly remarkable event and hats off to Wayne and all the organisers, sponsors and everyone involved.”

As for the elite swimmers, many completed several of the day one events as warm-up for their main races on Sunday. Hill maintained the aQuellé Midmar Mile provides an excellent opportunity for them to race ahead of all-important Olympic qualifying events.

“Open water is open water so whether it’s a 1km, 5km, or 10km, which is an Olympic event, it’s always good practice for the open water swimmers to do and it’s great for the pool swimmers who swim the 800s and 1500s, so it’s a bit of a mix in between and interesting to see results. We’ll see how they go,” he said.

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