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Champion Ho has his heart set on Rio

By Jon Cardinelli

He may never have won an Olympic medal, but there’s another reason why Chad Ho, at the tender age of 22, is considered a South African swimming legend.

It was on 10 February, in his home province of Kwazulu-Natal were he left his indelible mark, winning the Midmar Mile for the fourth consecutive time.

Ho became the first competitor to achieve this feat in the Mile’s 40-year-history, and there are already suggestions by those in the know that he could well go on to rack up five, six, or even 10 wins in his career. And given his personal affinity for this event, there’s certainly no danger of complacency.

Ho strikes one as a competitor who doesn’t buy into the hype, as somebody who doesn’t take anything for granted. He seems embarrassed to be thought of as a legend, and genuinely believes that the recent success is all part of a greater process rather than an end in itself.

Ho, in his unassuming and modest way, believes he is destined for greater things. If he continues to work hard and build on victories such as the one witnessed in Howick this past February, he will eventually realise his long term goal of representing South Africa at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Indeed, he made quite a statement with that particular performance. It may not be a distance that is raced at the Olympics, but it will have done Ho’s confidence a world of good to finish ahead of Troy Prinsloo, a swimmer who represented South Africa in the open water events in London last year.

Prinsloo and Ho are childhood friends who previously trained together under the same coach, but in 2012 it was Prinsloo who qualified for the Games and Ho who was left at home. A year on and over a shorter distance, it was Ho’s turn to get the better of his old mate, as he broke away in the final 400 metres to secure the top prize.

Prinsloo would concede later that Ho was simply too fast on the day, and that Ho’s intimate knowledge of the course gave him a distinct advantage. What we can take from Prinsloo’s comments is that Ho is nigh on unbeatable in this event, and that this golden run may continue for some time yet. While it is clearly a title he covets, Ho won’t let the success go to his head.

‘Obviously it was something I was aiming for, but I’ve learned that you’ve got to put a victory like that behind you very quickly, you’ve got to turn your attention to the next goal. I can’t get caught up in saying “I want to win 10 times”, I have to go back to my training, to look at the next event, to take it one month at a time.’

Nevertheless, he doesn’t mind telling you just what this event means to him, not only as a competitive swimmer, but as a proud Kwazulu-Natalian. His family has been attending the event for the past 20 years, and even now, Ho makes the effort to get to the venue six hours ahead of his race so that he can partake in the family’s traditional skottel breakfast. ‘We’ve been doing it for two decades, and I can totally see myself taking my kids there someday, and hopefully their kids too further down the line,’ he says.

While Ho was the big record-breaker at the 2013 event, a number of other swimmers certainly made their mark. Ashley Twichell became the first US winner of the race, and the Midmar Mile event itself broke its own record as the world’s biggest open water swim, with 13,755 finishers. At the time of writing, the final figure had been sent to Guinness World Records for ratification.

In 2012, Ho became the first man to win the Mile three times in succession. History will show that while some other very fine swimmers have come close to achieving this feat, they have never quite managed to clinch that third victory. Wayne Riddin, the event organiser of the past 21 years, won in 1975 and 1976, but failed to finish first in 1977. Similarly, Jacques Marais won in 1978 and 1979, but not in 1980.

Graham Hill, South Africa’s head swimming coach at the 2012 Olympic Games, was successful in 1985 and 1986, but Shaun Rivalland took the win the following year. Two-time winner Paul Fryer was undone by Ryk Neethling in 1994, and Neethling himself may have had three in a row if he had not opted to focus on training for the 1996 Olympic Games.

Ho’s old friend Prinsloo captured his first title in 2005 and successfully defended it in 2006. As fate would have it, however, the 2007 event was cancelled due to dangerous weather conditions, the first cancellation of the men’s race in history.

Ho finished third in 2009, and won his first race in 2010. He then followed this victory up with wins in 2011 and 2012, each win more convincing than the last.

It’s clear that Ho has a burning ambition to extend this record in 2014, but as he readily admitted, there are other events that will demand his more immediate attention.

‘At the moment, I am looking forward to the World Champs in Barcelona this July. But having said that, I won’t get too far ahead of myself, as I will first need to do well at the SA Open nationals in Cape Town.”

Ho went on to win the nationals, beating Prinsloo in the men’s open event.

Ho competed at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 as an 18-year-old, but missed the cut in 2012. It was a big setback, but as the powerful performance at the 2013 Midmar Mile suggests, Ho has recovered both mentally and physically, and intends to be among those swimmers who compete in Brazil in 2016.

‘Definitely,’ he says in a determined tone of voice. ‘Rio is definitely on the cards. I know I will still be swimming in 2016, and it’s a matter of working as hard as I can and making sure I qualify.

‘I missed out in 2012, and was very disappointed to do so. After training so hard, after making so many sacrifices, it was hard to accept that I had not qualified for the London Games.

“My confidence took a knock, but then I gathered myself, I kept myself busy but representing South Africa in lifesaving. I learned a lot from that experience, and I intend to do better in the coming years. I definitely want to represent my country again in 2016.’

[Sidebar]

FOUR THINGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT HO

1.) He views fruit as the ultimate snack: “I can easily chow half a bag of apples a day. Is that healthy? I’m not too sure, but it is something I enjoy.”

2.) While he is a massive fan of Linkin Park, and rapper Eminem, he describes his taste in music as very diverse.

3.) Ho grew up playing sports like cricket, soccer, water polo, and rugby, but decided to focus on swimming after leaving school. He still supports the Sharks though, and plays the odd round of golf when he has some down time.

4.) Ho likes to stay active, but when he’s not in the pool or on the golf course, he enjoys Playstation or watching a good comedy with friends.


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