Gran, 90, lights up Midmar Mile

10 February 2014

The 41st aQuelle Midmar Mile produced a weekend of outstanding races as Chad Ho and Ashley Twichell successfully defended their men’s and women’s titles, and sprightly Lorna Cochran, aged 90, became the event’s oldest ever finisher.

Recognised by Guinness World Records as the largest open water swimming event in the world, the Midmar Mile took place over the weekend at the Midmar Dam near Howick in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands and drew about 16 000 entries.

Cochran, who swam in the first of the eight miles that make up the Midmar Mile, was the star of the show on Saturday, bettering her 2013 time by an incredible eight minutes.

‘A wonderful, wonderful swim’

Afterwards, she dedicated her feat to her family. “It was a wonderful, wonderful swim for all the family,” she said. “I must also congratulate all the swimmers, especially all the disabled swimmers. To me, that really is something to be admired and such an achievement. They’re fantastic people.”

Mike Arbuthnot, the event founder, who swam at the age of 81, commented: “I’m just so very proud of Lorna, and envious. Hers really is a tremendous achievement and I hope she can do many more in years to come.”

Race organiser Wayne Riddin was full of praise for Cochran, saying: “If I had to organize the event and put in all the effort just for Lorna, I would. Just to see her go eight minutes faster [than last year[ and what she has achieved is great!”

The two main races, contested on Sunday, produced thrilling action, with only eight- hundredths of a second separating four-time defending champion Chad Ho from Troyden Prinsloo at the finish. Both men clocked 18 minutes and 18 seconds in choppy conditions, with Ho just edging out Prinsloo in the short sprint up the slipway to the timing mats.

Five successive wins

Ho, already the record holder for most wins by a man, extended his record run to five on the trot and thrilled to have achieved the feat. “Winning five in a row is a huge deal to me,” said Ho.

“Winning just a title means a lot to me, so winning five makes me very happy!”

“I think I gave some people a bit of a heart-attack towards the end there, but I’m really happy to have taken the win,” Ho added. “I think my first win also went down to a photo finish too, and hats off to Troy for pushing me the whole way.”

“Congrats to Chad. It was a great swim,” said Prinsloo. “I knew it would be tough coming into the race and obviously it’s a bit disappointing [not too have won] but my swim today was much better today than the last two years, so I guess I’m still happy.”

Myles Brown fought his way past Danie Marais, third in 2012, to claim third place. “It’s so tough trying to swim in a pack like that. When the race starts, it’s chaos. You get knocked around and cut-off, but that is what open water swimming is about and Chad and Troy have mastered that. I’m still learning, but it’s an improvement on last year, so I’m really happy,” Brown said afterwards.

Women’s race

In the women’s race, the USA’s Ashley Twichell, fresh off a win in the BHP Billiton Aquatic Super Series in Perth the previous weekend, adjusted well from the 10km distance to the mile to record her second successive Midmar Mile victory.

It did not come easily, however, as seven-time champion Keri-anne Payne pushed her all the way despite swimming in the Eight Mile Club to raise money for charity. Eight Mile Club members swim all eight miles on the weekend, so the women’s race was Payne’s seventh mile.

She had finished ahead of the field in the boys’ 13-and-under and men’s 31-and-over event that preceded the women’s race, but said she didn’t think her exertions there had hurt her too much.

‘I didn’t feel as if I pushed it that hard’

“I didn’t feel as if I pushed it that hard in the previous event. I did lengthen my stroke in the second event today, thinking I could get a pretty good warm-up for the women’s race, and then I think the competitive side of me might possibly have come out a little bit towards the end of today’s second swim,” Payne smiled.

“I felt pretty good after today’s second race, so I set myself the goal of making sure I came and gave the women’s race a good go. I had done six miles already this weekend, this was number seven so I knew it was probably going to be tough.

“I just wanted to stick to Ashley (Twichell) as much as I could and see how close I could get to her because I know she’s got a lot of speed at the moment which I managed to do and am so pleased with.

South African-born Payne, a two-time 10km open water world champion, suggested that she would in future stick to being part of the Eight Mile Club. “Swimming eight Miles and raising money for ‘Save the Rhino’ is all for a great cause and I am really excited to be here and do this,” she said.

“I think now that I’ got the bug [of swimming in the Eight Mile Club], I’m not sure that I’m going to stop.”

‘I’ve done enough races to stay calm’

“Keri-anne did get out [the blocks] fast and she is unbelievable, but her start didn’t really change things too much for me,” explained a visibly satisfied Twichell afterwards. “I got a little caught up with all the people in the beginning, but I’ve done enough races [to know] to stay calm.

“I love this race. With the amount of travelling I do, I have to pick and choose which races I focus on. This one is pretty far away from home, but it’s one of my favourites,” she added.

“The venue is amazing, the organisation is great, [race director] Wayne Riddin is fantastic and the people are so hospitable, so it’s one of my favourites and I would love to come back!”

Leading South African

Michelle Weber repeated her third place finish of 2013 and was the leading South African, with Kyne Perreira taking fourth place. For her efforts, Weber received a ticket to the Henley Mile in the UK in July, courtesy of 5-hour Energy.

“I am so stoked, I can’t believe I’ll be going over to compete at the Henley Mile! Especially after my heart op just a few months ago,” said Weber of a heart problem that almost ended her career at only 17 years of age.

“When I said before the event I might finish in the top five, I didn’t know whether I actually even had it in me, so I am just so stoked that I came third behind Ashley and Keri-anne, who are such great competitors.”

40th Midmar Mile

Gail Bristow made her annual pilgrimage from Cape Town to take part in the event and finished second in the 51 to 60 age group. She is the only woman in its long history to have swum in every one of the 40 Midmar Miles open to women. In the race’s first year, 1974, it was open to men only.

Charity

Fund-raising for the six groups of charities supported by the aQuelle Midmar Mile – Save the Rhino, the Pink Drive, the Red Cap Foundation, The Princess Charlene Foundation, the Childhood Cancer Foundation of South Africa (CHOC) and a group of swimmers with disabilities, who raised funds directly for the groups they were supporting – had topped R1.5-million by Sunday.