High drama at the Midmar Mile

12 February 2007

There was high drama at the world’s largest open water swimming event on Sunday when the final race, for boys and men aged 14 to 30, was cancelled due to bad weather – the first time in the Midmar Mile’s 34-year history that a race has been called off.

Raced over two days, with four races each day, conditions for the Midmar Mile on Saturday were scorching, with the temperatures in the mid-thirties before the discomfort index was taken into consideration. On Sunday, it was a different story altogether.

It rained throughout Saturday evening and into the new day. A light sprinkling of rain fell consistently through Sunday’s first race, the girl’s 13 and under and women’s 31 and older. During event two, the boy’s and men’s equivalent, conditions were much the same.

By the third race, the women’s 14 to 30 year age group, the rain became heavier and the winds rose, bringing with them a biting cold.

Shocked faces
Then came an announcement from race organiser Wayne Riddin that only seeded swimmers would be allowed to contest the final race. There were plenty of shocked faces as it filtered through. Shortly afterwards the decision to cancel the race entirely followed.

Within minutes it became clear why Riddin pulled the plug as the winds drove from south to north across the west to east course, causing choppy and sizeable waves to form, with a whispery mist blanketing the dam.

It was a disappointing conclusion to the weekend, but the primary priority for the organisers is the safety of the competitors and Riddin felt that it couldn’t be guaranteed, thus his decision, which he reckoned was easy to make given the circumstances.

For defending champion Troyden Prinsloo, who had flown out from the University of Georgia to attempt to become the first male swimmer to win the Midmar Mile three years in succession, it was a terrible blow. Prinsloo said he would have swum no matter the conditions – but he’s a world class swimmer, unlike the majority of the field.

Hungarian successes
The cancellation of the race also brought to an end the ambitions of the Hungarian national open water swimming team, who had enjoyed a fine day, taking victories in the boy’s and girl’s 13 and under categories, as well as in the women’s 31 to 40 age group

A number of the Hungarians, though, will get the opportunity to swim at Midmar Dam, with the holding of the 10-kilometre open water swim on Monday.

Hungarian coach Tamas Vadjda validated Riddin’s decision, saying he realised “safety was the first concern”.

Open women’s race
In the open women’s event, victory went to Australia’s Melissa Gorman, who won her ticket to the Midmar Mile by clinching the Gold Coast Mile Down Under. It was a tight race.

Through the first three hot spots, at 400 metres, 800 metres, and 1 200 metres, South African international Melissa Corfe led, chased by Gorman and three-time defending champion Keri-Ann Payne of Great Britain.

Gorman, though, had chosen the best line into the finish and she crossed the finish line in 19 minutes and 52 seconds, well off the record of 18 minutes and 21 seconds set by Payne in 2006. However, considering the choppy conditions and a testing headwind, it was a fine effort.

Corfe followed in second position in just over 20 minutes, with the defending champion relegated to third spot.

The Eight-Mile Club
Efforts on behalf of charities were extremely successful. Members of the Eight-Mile Club were responsible for raising over R700 000 and that figure is one that was calculated before the final day’s events.

The swimmers taking part in the Eight-Mile Club swim each and every race whilst raising funds for a wide number of charities. Fourteen-year-old Myles Brown was astonishingly successful in both the races and in raising money. In seven races, he was first across the finish line on four occasions, and he also brought in R24 000.

Olympic silver medal winner and Deaflympics star Terence Parkin was rather less fortunate. He suffered a bite from a spider and gritted his way through Saturday’s four races. However, that evening he had to be rushed to hospital as a result of the bite. A substitute swimmer, Andrew Campbell, took Parkin’s place to continue raising money for the Fulton School for the Deaf.

According to Riddin, this year’s entry was in the region of 16 500 swimmers, although other figures provided lift that number to anywhere from 16 700 to 17 000.

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