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Olympian Ho out to make it four Midmar Miles in a row

Beijing Olympian and three-time defending men’s champion Chad Ho faces a stiff challenge at this year’s aQuell├® Midmar Mile, which takes place near Howick in KwaZulu-Natal this weekend.

The likes of Troy Prinsloo, Myles Brown and Mark Randall, like Ho, have all earned South African national colours in distance events, while Prinsloo’s former training partner at the University of Georgia and former European men’s champion over 800m and 1500m, S├®bastien Rouault, will also be on the start line of this year’s event.

In the Midmar Mile, though, Ho has always demonstrated supreme determination and focus and it is no different this time around. “I don’t really worry about the other challengers,” he said. “I focus on myself and my own swim, what I have to do and try to just get to the other side as fast as possible.”

Before Ho became the first man to win the Midmar Mile three times in succession, some other very fine swimmers had narrowly failed to achieve the same feat.

Wayne Riddin, the event organiser of the past 21 years, won two in a row in 1975 and 1976, but was then beaten by Paul Blackbeard, a huge swimming star in the 1970s.

Jacques Marais won in 1978 and 1979, but not in 1980. Graham Hill, South Africa’s head swimming coach at the 2012 London Olympic Games, tasted victory in 1985 and 1986, but Shaun Rivalland took the win the following year.

Paul Fryer’s bid for three in a row was thwarted by Ryk Neethling in 1994. The future Olympic gold medallist, who was a 1500m freestyle specialist at the time, won again in 1995 and would have been a good bet to win in 1996, but instead chose to focus on the Atlanta Olympic Games. In 2001, he became the first three-time winner of the men’s title.

Prinsloo captured his first title in 2005 and successfully defended it in 2006. His hopes of win number three was, however, wiped out in 2007 when dangerous conditions led to the cancellation of the men’s race ÔÇô the only time a race had been cancelled in the history of the Midmar Mile.

After finishing third in 2009, former under-14 champion Ho raced to his first Midmar Mile open victory in 2010 and followed that up with victories in 2011 and 2012, with each win more convincing than the previous one.

“It meant a huge deal being the first person to do it in the 40 years of the event,” he admitted. “Hopefully I can continue that tradition and go on to four, five or even six. But we’ll take it one year at a time. I’m very grateful that I was the first one to get three in a row.”

Ho continued, saying the Midmar Mile has always been important to his family: “It has always been a big part of my life and my family’s life. We’ve been part of it for many years. It’s one of those events we all look forward to and we give it our all.”

Frankly, though, the Midmar Mile is a lot shorter than the typical distance Ho competes over, as a glance at some of his achievements reveals: he placed ninth in the 10km open water swim at the Beijing Olympics in 2008; in 2009, he won the bronze medal winner in the 5km open water swim at the World Championships in Rome; the following year he won the FINA Marathon Swimming World Cup Series.

In 2011, he competed in the FINA World Championships in Shanghai, China, but finished only 20th, 34 seconds behind the winner Spyridon Gianniotis. Last year, despite finishing 12th in a 61-man field at the FINA Olympic Marathon Swim Qualifier, he missed out on the Olympics as Prinsloo finished fifth to earn selection ahead of him.

Since 2010, though, over the shorter 1600 metre distance of the Midmar Mile, Ho has been dominant, opening up a gap early on and swimming away from his nearest challengers. “I don’t know why I have been so strong at Midmar in the past few years. I guess that is just the competitive side of me coming through. I definitely look forward to Midmar every year,” he said.

Ho’s been preparing hard for this year’s event, but his training has been a little different to what it was in the past. “I’ve been doing a bit of lifesaving [and open water swimming] and been trying to balance the two,” he explained.

“Like open water, conditions change every surf swim, so I think it has helped me a lot in my open water swimming and open water swimming has helped my surf lifesaving, so they work hand-in-hand with each other. It’s working really well.”

If that’s the case, Ho’s challengers can rest assured they are going to have to battle all the way to the finish to wrestle the men’s title from his grasp. He’s not planning on giving it up and is training with seven-time women’s champion Keri-Anne Payne in the lead-up to the event. That, too, is going to make him a very tough man to beat.

Keeping it low-key, Ho said of his approach to the race: “I play it by ear on the day. I have to reassess my line if there is a big wind or a big chop. Usually I have my set line and I stick to it, but we will see what happens on the day.”


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