11 February 2008
Despite rainy weather throughout Saturday, the 2008 Midmar Mile weekend was a roaring success, with excellent racing, fun and drama, slickly put together into a professional package that kept competitors and spectators well entertained at the world’s largest open water swimming event.
A significantly upgraded commentary set-up worked brilliantly. For the first time, big screen televisions covered the action at both the start and finish. Race commentary was provided by people at the start, top swimming coaches in boats on the water, the pilot of a helicopter over the dam, and more commentators at the finish.
Besides being broadcast over a far-reaching sound-system, the commentary also went out on 100.5 FM over a 30-kilometre radius around the Midmar Dam.
With the massive fields of swimmers out in the dam, causing splashes reminiscent of a sardine run on the KwaZulu-Natal coast, the comprehensive coverage of the event helped bring into focus the action in the water, at the start and at the finish. Outstanding!
The introduction of the Mr Price timing chip played a massive role in making the job of the commentators an easy one. Identifying swimmers, with each of them wearing caps, is not an easy job, but a quick glance at a number and running it through a computer made matters relatively easy.
As competitors crossed the timing mats at the finish, their times and names became available, which allowed the commentators to personalise their comments.
Ultimately, it made for a warm and feel-good production which made everyone a part of the event.
The primary men’s title, in the category 14-30 years, was claimed by open water swimming star Shaun Dias in a fantastic sprint finish across the timing mat, just ahead of Chad Ho.
Dias went out fast from the start, picking up hotspots wins as the 400 metres, 800m, and 1 200m marks. The final 400 metres, however, saw Ho drawing up alongside Dias to match him stroke for stroke as the finish drew near.
On the banks, the crowds edged closer to the water, excitement palpable in the air, to watch the drama unfold. Dias was first to his feet, fractionally ahead of Ho. Both immediately turned on the afterburners in a race for the line, with Dias winning in 19:05, only one second ahead of Ho.
Visiting Hungarian swimmer Csabo Gersack captured third place in 19:19.
Victory in the women’s 14-30 went Hungary’s way as Erika Hajnal out-duelled South Africa’s Melissa Corfe to win in her first go at the Midmar Mile.
There were shades of 2007 as Hajnal adopted a similar line to the one used by Australia’s Melissa Gorman when she won a year earlier.
Corfe took up a line that was as much as 100 metres apart from Hajnal but, after realising the Hungarian was on a better course, she moved inwards in an effort to close the gap. It was too late.
Despite a furious finishing burst by Corfe, she couldn’t catch Hajnal, who won in 20:27, three seconds ahead of the South African. Melanie Greyling took third place in 21:48.
Members of the 8-Mile Club, including three-time winner Gareth Fowler, two-time champion Terence Parkin and former Springbok prop Adrian Garvey, completed every race in their distinctive gold caps as they raised money for charity.
The Game Charity Challenge swimmers were also prominent with their pink caps as they too swam for charity. In the company relay, 87 swimmers from Game Stores took to the water, with Game donating R1 000 for each swimmer that took part.
Event one on Saturday decided a number of titles, including those of the Ironman and Ironwoman. The Ironman/Ironwoman is made up of the previous year’s Comrades Marathon, the Dusi Canoe Marathon, and the Midmar Mile, while the biathlon part of the competition includes the Midmar Mile and Dusi Canoe Marathon, as well as the Midmar Mile and the Comrades Marathon.
Roy Delhove claimed the Ironman title, including all three events, while Kerry Koen was crowned women’s champion.
The men’s Ironman biathlon title, including the Comrades and Midmar Mile, went the way of Bruce Gore, while Kerry Koen was again the winner among the women.
The Ironman biathlon title, including the Dusi and Midmar Mile, saw Dusi great Hank McGregor top among the men and Angela Scrooby coming out on top among the ladies.
Gareth Fowler led Terence Parkin across the finishing line.
Included in the field were 30 swimmers from the Sobantu development programme, a success story which was started thanks to the support of the Midmar Mile and the organising club, Pietermaritzburg Seals.
Unilever Wave defended their title in the company relay, with Brett Clark leading their challenge by finishing third behind 8-Milers’ Fowler and Parkin, who weren’t officially in the running for victory.
Event three, the non-company relay, is closely watched as an indicator of the form of the leading swimmers ahead of the main men’s and women’s races on Sunday.
Charl van Zyl took victory in 19:45, ahead of JC Thompson and Wesley Gilchrist, but perhaps the most telling result was Melissa Corfe ending sixth overall, the first woman across the line, in 20:05.
USN-Spike retained their title.
The final event on Saturday, the family relay, was won by the Dias family, with Shaun taking first, Paul fifth, and Gareth sixth.
Courtney and Kirsten Mower, part of the defending champion team, put the pressure on by ending second and third respectively, with Connie and Caitlyn Mower finishing a little way back to ensure the Mower family finished as runners-up.
It was at the back end of the family relay that the true magic of the Midmar Mile was revealed. Watching spouses, siblings, parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren, exiting the water together, with mile-wide smiles, pride and love plastered across their features was lump-in-the throat theatre.
Here and there messages in marking pens were written on swimmers’ bodies: “4 mum + dad”, “4 dad-zn”, and other more humourous offerings, such as “Learner, please pass”.
Much as the true spirit of KwaZulu-Natal’s other major mass-participation events – the Comrades Marathon and the Dusi Canoe Marathon – is to be found among the entrants competing to finish the events, rather than racing to win, so the heart-warming spirit of the Midmar Mile became clear in the family relay.
Age group winners
Sunday morning’s first event, the women’s 13-and-under and 31-and-over, was won by Kira Hauptfleisch, an under-13 entrant, in a time of 21:27.
Stacey Bowley topped the 31-40 age group, while Lulu Cochran, a visitor from the United Kingdom, was number one in the 41-50 section. Rita Townsend won the 51-60 event.
The men’s event in the same age divisions was won by Ryno Markgraaff after a fantastic dice against Gregg Price that had the spectators enthralled.
Markgraaff’s win saw him take the 31-40 title, while Price won in the 41-50 age group. Lliam Hunt was the top under-13 finisher.
Lorna Cochran lifted the women’s record for the oldest finisher to 84 years of age, while Mike “Buthy” Arbuthnot swam the Mile for the 35th year in succession. Having been a part of the 8-Mile Club previously, he has swum the race 65 times in total!
Apart from Adrian Garvey swimming all eight events, a few other ex Springbok rugby players were in attendance. Former captain Gary Teichmann swam the first race, while Os du Randt was on hand to support his wife, Hannelie, who in her younger days won her national colours for swimming.