Chad Ho Chases 8th Midmar Mile Title As Prep For Tokyo 2020 Tilt

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Chad Ho targets and eighth Midmar crown

  • Thanks to Karien Jonckheere for helping to compile our Midmar Mile reports

Local hero Chad Ho, the former World 5km champion and Olympic marathon swimmer from KwaZulu-Natal, will be chasing an elusive eighth title when he takes on a strong international field at the aQuellé Midmar Mile near Howick, South Africa, this weekend.

The event, dubbed the world’s largest open water race and featuring around 12,000 swimmers covering the 1.6km distance over two days of racing, forms part of Olympic preparations for Ho and Michelle Weber, one of South Africa’s top open water swimming prospects. Tokyo 2020 would mark Ho’s third and Weber’s second Games.

Ho, 29, last won the race in 2016, when he also set the record for the fastest time of 17 minutes flat. But he’s determined to add title number eight to his impressive haul of accolades which includes a 5km open water world title.

“Winning is always the main priority and I am confident in my ability to win my eighth title,” the race’s most successful swimmer told Karien Jonckheere. “However, it will come down to race day and if it is my day.”

Ho’s first taste of victory came in the 13 years and under category, which he won back in 2004, and since 2008 he’s finished in the top 10 in the main race every year, including his run of seven titles from 2010 to 2016.

“I don’t think there are any secrets to success in open water swimming. It is all about who performs on the day, who is in their best condition, who has picked the best line and the water conditions during the race. It’s anyone’s race, which is what I love about it. The international swimmers definitely add a competitive edge, they push you harder and it makes for great viewing for the spectators. In saying that, it is also not something I allow to cloud my focus. I can only control my swim and how I do on the day, so I choose to remain focused on that.”

The mile isn’t contested in open water at the Olympics, the nearest thing the traditional 1500m that’s been a part of the Games for more than. a century. Even so, Ho explained that the Midmar Mile still forms an important part of his preparation as he looks to qualify for his third Games.

“Midmar allows me to assess my current progress. It is not the distance I need to qualify for but it is an opportunity to race. Every opportunity to push yourself before the Olympics is a good one,” he explained.

The first step in achieving that qualification for Tokyo 2020 will be finishing in the top two at the national championships in Jeffrey’s Bay in March.

The 2016 champion has been competing in the event from the age of 11, racking up a remarkable record along the way. While she’s all focus and resolve when she’s in the water, it’s what takes place before and after the racing that brings her back each year.

“It is every professional athlete’s dream to compete at the highest level of competition. To say I have not only been to one, not two, but three Olympics is an indescribable feeling. This is what I spend every day working towards, and knowing my efforts paid off in the end will make it all worth it.”

But first he’ll be looking for another Midmar win and training has been ramped up to give him the best possible shot at that.

“Training has been going well. We are currently in a period of doing high mileage and have been for about two weeks now. Some days are really tough and I am finished at the end of the day, but it is what is required to compete at the level I am aiming for.”

Ho has been lining up on the banks of the KZN dam since the age of six, so the event is of particular significance to him.

“Midmar is an event whereby family, co-workers and friends can come together and take part in an event as a team or even as support for any individuals taking part,” he explained.

“For me personally it is a family-orientated weekend. I don’t get to have my family by my side at races very often and this is the one event that allows for that. I have been doing Midmar since the age of six and it has always been a significant event for myself and my family.”

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Ashley Hogg – Photo Courtesy: Jetline Action Photo

One of Ho’s main rivals is Britin’s Ashley Hogg, who came nail-bitingly close to victory at the Midmar  in 2018 and finished fifth last year.

Hogg will be one of the main international threats, along with American Brendan Casey, in the main men’s race.
The 21-year-old Hogg, a university student,  said:

“Coming close to gold a couple of times in the past has taught me valuable tactical lessons, both borne from my errors and others’ successes. I have not only learnt more from coming so close, but I am also more driven to get that win. It is an Olympic year, so everybody will be nearing their best in preparation to grab one of the limited Olympic qualifying places. There will be, unquestionably, tough opposition this year, but I am as prepared as possible and excited to see how I stack up.”

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Ashley Hogg – Photo Courtesy: Jetline Action Photo

Hogg, who is currently completing a Masters degree in chemistry in Manchester, England, relishes the opportunity to leave what South Africans has amusingly called “his soggy hometown” behind for the warmer climes of KwaZulu-Natal each year. “The Midmar Mile comes at a time when there are few competitions across Europe, and the conditions in the winter months don’t lend themselves well to swimming outdoors,” said Hogg. “It is essential that we keep race-ready during these months, and Midmar allows us to race against the world’s best while in hard mid-season training.”

As for the event itself, Hogg can’t say enough about what it offers visiting swimmers:

“There are very few races that I have been to in any country that can provide the same year-on-year guarantee of a world-class field, a strong sense of welcome and community, and impeccable organisation. This consistency is something that, as an athlete, allows us to focus on what we need to, without worry – swimming fast. This, along with the fantastically
warm reception we receive as international competitors, makes for such an enjoyable event. My teammate, Bailey Hairsine, and I haven’t hesitated in coming back for the last three years now. Every time I race the Midmar Mile, I am reminded of how kind and hospitable the people are. I find this rings true across the event, from seasoned competitors and first-time swimmers alike.”

The Midmar will be the first test of Hogg’s 2020 race season as he rises up the ranks of open water. In 2018, he claimed a bronze medal at the Marathon Grand Prix in Wuhan, China and the same year finished in the top eight at the World Junior Open Water Championships.

Michelle Weber: “Tokyo Training Going Well”

DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA - APRIL 13: Michelle Weber during the heats session 800m freestyle for women on day 6 of the SA National Aquatic Championships and Olympic Trials on April 13 , 2016 at the Kings Park Aquatic Center pool in Durban, South Africa. Photo Credit / Anesh Debiky/Swim SA

Michelle Weber – Photo Courtesy: Anesh Debiky/Swimming South Africa

Weber won the mile back in 2016 preparing for the Rio Olympics that year. She has been competing in the local event from the age of 11, racking up a remarkable record along the way. Tokyo qualification on the horizon, she’s all focus and resolve when she’s in the water but it’s what takes place before and after the Midmar racing that brings her back each year.

She’ll be returning for the 2020 edition of the world’s largest open water swimming event from 8-9 February, where she’ll be gunning for more glory.

“I love the Midmar Mile. I was raised in Umhlanga, so we went up every year for it. I think it’s just so special to me because my family started out just going to open water events for fun. We used to camp on the weekend and take a boat out, and our canoes and stuff, and just enjoy the weekend and then have a swim and braai [short for braaivleis, Afrikaans  for BBQ or grill]. So I think that’s what makes it so special for me, and it holds a very dear place in my heart,” she explained.

Weber’s chief target for the year is competing in the 10km open water swim at her second Olympic Games in Tokyo this August, so the aQuellé Midmar Mile is not quite as gruelling a challenge, but it will still provide a crucial opportunity for Weber to test herself against some tough competition.

“My training has been going well. It’s an Olympic year, so it’s obviously a really big year for me as well as a lot of other athletes. I think the competition is going to be quite tough on both the men’s and women’s side. Everyone is going to be swimming really fast,” said the 23-year-old, who’s now based in Franschhoek in the Western Cape.

“I love doing the Midmar and I think it’s cool for Olympics. Firstly because I get to see all my friends and just to get a break, but also it fits into my training schedule for the Games – just to see how fast I’m getting and how I’m feeling in the water. It’s great because it’s a month before Nationals, so any concerns or anything I feel isn’t right in my training, I can fix very quickly.”

A top-two spot at the National Championships will be the first step to qualifying for Tokyo, where only a limited number get the opportunity to compete.

“It’s pretty tight, and it’s hard, because in open water swimming, we only have 25 swimmers in the event compared to pool swimmers, where there are a lot more. It’s hard because conditions change, race tactics change – you need a lot of experience for this, and I’ve been doing this for a while, so I’m pretty excited to see how I’m going to do.”

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Kareena Lee, with Susie O’Neill and coach John Rodgers at the handing over of treasure: a ticket to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games – Photo Courtesy: Ian Hanson

Much of that experience has come at the famous KwaZulu-Natal dam, where Weber has notched up an incredible record over the years. She’s finished in the top eight on each of the 12 occasions she’s competed, winning the 13 years and under category in 2009 and 2010, and the senior title in 2016, while finishing second last year behind Australia’s Kareena Lee. Said Weber:

“It’s always amazing having the internationals coming through. It’s cool to race against them and also see how they do and chat to them while they’re here. I think that’s the nice thing about open water – a lot of people do take it seriously, but it’s also a lot more social than pool swimming. So just the vibe they bring is pretty amazing.”

She added: “For this year, I’m not sure who will be the biggest competition. You never know what’s going to happen on the day. Open water is strange like that. Conditions change, you can get a wrong line, and it could just not be your day.”

“I just love open water swimming, though, because I get to travel to so many different countries and I don’t just swim in a pool, I get to swim in some of the most beautiful oceans, lakes, dams and rivers, so I think that’s what makes it so incredible. I love the adventure that comes with it.”

 

 

 

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