13 February 2012
Two important records fell in the 2012 aQuelle Midmar Mile on Sunday as South Africa’s Chad Ho won the men’s title and Great Britain’s Keri-Anne Payne claimed the women’s honours.
Held annually over two days in February at the Midmar Dam in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, near Howick, the aQuelle Midmar Mile is recognised by Guinness World Records as the largest open water swimming event in the world.
Ho became the first swimmer to win the men’s title three years in succession in the 39th edition of the race, while Payne was pushed all the way to the finish by American Ashley Twichell before securing a record-setting seventh women’s victory.
Assessing the performances of the winners, event organiser Wayne Riddin said: “This is the way the Midmar Mile is heading,” in reference to the world class performances by two world-class swimmers. Riddin expects that the event will continue to grow and attract ever-stronger fields.
Payne, the world 10k open water champion, swims few big mass-participation events, preferring to take part in the elite events, but she has consistently supported the Midmar Mile, the largest open water swimming event in the world.
Former South African
Her first success at Midmar came as a junior, in the 13-and-under age group when she swam as a South African, having been born in Johannesburg. Nowadays, though, Payne sports an English-accent and, as a two-time world 10k open water champion, is a big medal hope for the British at the 2012 London Games.
It had been thought she might give the Midmar Mile a miss this year because of her Olympic preparations, but she and coach Sean Kelly decided not to fix what wasn’t broken and she returned once more for a shot at breaking the tie of six victories she held with South Africa’s Natasha Panzera (nee Figge).
Leading American coach and open water authority Steve Munatones, meanwhile, brought US Olympic hopeful, Ashley Twichell, with him to see whether or not she could challenge Payne, who had dominated the race in 2011. “It’s the biggest event I have ever participated in,” said Twichell.
On the Thursday preceding the Midmar Mile itself, she showed herself to be in good form by easily winning the Speedo International 10K Challenge. On Sunday, Twichell more than managed to challenge Payne, she provided the Brit with a race for the ages.
Stroke for stroke
The pair matched each other stroke for stroke through the first 400 metres before Payne edged ever so slightly ahead to claim the hot spot.
At 800 metres, there was nothing to separate the two as they shared the money for reaching halfway first, and at 1 200 metres they once again shared the hot spot money.
With the finishing line in sight, Payne managed to sneak a small lead. She exited the water and after a short dash for the line secured victory in 20 minutes and 44 seconds, almost two minutes slower than her winning time of 2011.
Payne was not concerned with the time. She was, in fact, happy with it, consdering that it is early in the season, and also because the dam was choppy and 100 percent full, with water pouring strongly over the dam wall.
Twichell finished just under two seconds after Payne, with Danielle Hall-Jackson of the British team in third after an impressive swim, in 21:03.
Rene Warnes was the leading South African swimmer, crossing the line in fifth place in 22:23.
Riddin, the event’s organiser for the past 21 years, said the dice between Payne and Twichell made it possibly the greatest women’s race in the history of the Midmar Mile. “Put it this way,” he said, “I may have forgotten some races through the years, but this one I will never forget.”
The men’s race, the final event of the eight Midmar Mile races, was expected to be a closely fought affair, with a number of top Italians set to take on some of South Africa’s leading open water swimmers.
Chad Ho, who like Keri-Anne Payne, had also tasted Midmar Mile victory in the 13-and-under age group, was aiming for a third title in succession, an unprecedented achievement. However, he faced strong opposition from former winners Troyden Prinsloo (2005,2006) and Riaan Schoeman (2009), as well European 800 metres freestyle record holder Federico Colabertaldo.
The President of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee Sam Ramsamy was on hand to take in the action, along with the head of Swimming South Africa Jace Naidoo.
Dictated the race
From the start, the quiet Ho dictated how the race would be swum. After only 400 metres, he had opened up a good lead which had grown to 25 metres by halfway. A strong surge with 400 metres to go took him even further clear and he crossed the line in 18 minutes and 48 seconds for a superb victory.
“This race means so much to me and winning it three times in a row is really special,” said Ho after his victory.
Prinsloo came home in second, in 19:09, with Colalbertaldo in third, in 19:30, six seconds clear of Schoeman.
There was a notable achievement by Lorna Cochran in the very first race of the Midmar Mile on Saturday. The 88-year-old from Cape Town became the oldest female finisher in the history of the event, crossing the line in an hour and 20 minutes.
She admitted that it had been a tough crossing and suggested that she might not try to equal Colin Cable’s record as the oldest finisher next year. However, her son Neil, aged 61, who swam with her, said he thought his mother might give the Midmar Mile a fifteenth go.
Mike Arbuthnot, one of the event’s founders, and the only man to officially swim in it each and every year, swam in four events to take his number of crossings to 78 at the age of 79. Arbuthnot, who sports the number one in honour of what he means to the Midmar Mile, will swim in two races next year to take his total number of crossings to 80 at the age of 80.
Mervyn Bremner, who heads up the Eight Mile Club, which is made up of swimmers who do all eight miles over the weekend to raise money for charity, became the first person to swim more than 100 Midmar Miles. He finished the weekend with a stunning 102 to his name.
Thirteen-year-old Matthew Meyer excelled in the race for boys 13-and-under and men 31-and-over. He took victory in an excellent time of 21 minutes and 30 seconds, beating two-time men’s winner Terence Parkin into second place and three-time champion Ryk Neethling into third.
Meyer had finished second to Neethling in 2011 and had the big crowd laughing when he vowed to beat his idol, Neethling, in 2012. He was as good as his word.
Victory in the girls’ 13-and-under and women’s 31-and-over went to Savannah Barman in impressive fashion. Despite struggling with her direction and thus swimming some distance more than necessary, she won in 23 minutes and 35 seconds, 37 seconds clear of second placed Zandalee Terblanche.
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