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SA quartet seek Rio Games open water slots in Portugal
- Updated: June 10, 2016
By Mark Etheridge
It’s last chance saloon in Setubal for South Africa’s four Rio Olympics open-water hopefuls as they try and seal spots at the Olympic Marathon Swimming qualifying event in Portugal this weekend.
No South African swimmers managed to qualify at last year’s FINA World Aquatic Championships in Kazan, Russia where the first 10 men and women gained automatic qualifying.
Saturday’s women’s race and Sunday’s men’s race, both over 10 kilometres, is the final chance with nine slots left open in the respective races and South Africa have two men and two women in action.
The women’s race sees Durban duo Michelle Weber and Carmen le Roux chasing that spot while the men’s event has 2008 Olympian Chad Ho and 2012 Olympian Troy Prinsloo in action.
Eighteen-year-old Le Roux shed some light on her journey thus far, telling Road to Rio 2016: ‘I started swimming when I was five years old and for the last six years I have been training with Alisdair Hadfield at Action Swim Academy.
‘Alisdair’s programme and coaching has formed me into a long distance swimmer. At 16 I went to my first international event which was Junior Open water World Champs in Hungary 2014 where I placed eighth in the 5km.
‘I’ve been to a few other international events since. The last few years it has always been a challenge between Michelle, my sister Clarice and myself in all the open water events in SA where I have won a few races.
‘Last year I went to Russia for the 10km which I was really looking forward to because it was also a qualifying event for Rio, unfortunately I learnt the night before the 5km that I had to swim that as well the next day due to the other swimmers withdrawal, so unfortunately that did have a bit of an influence on my 10km race and it didn’t go as well as I hoped it to be, because that was two days later.
‘At this year’s open water nationals, it was a tight finish with 0.5sec separating Michelle and I. My preparation the last few months have been going great, with good health and I think I have more experience with the open water and my mind set is much stronger than before.
‘I’m going to give it my all on Saturday and if everything goes according to plan I would like to finish in the top nine which sends me through to Rio. I am privileged to have my coach travelling with me and being there to give me advice, and it is also very encouraging to have my biggest supporter, my dad, being there with me. I’ve got a brilliant team around me that has a huge influence on my swimming, that includes my coach, my mental coach Jannie Putter, and my chiropractor.’
Weber, who underwent a heart operation a few years back to correct a cardiac problem is also optimistic: ‘I’m very excited to race this weekend. My fingers are crossed to come in the top nine.
‘I’ve been working extremely hard and have just come off an altitude training camp in Doha with national coach Graham Hill and some of the Olympic qualifiers (Chad le Clos, Myles Brown, Calvyn Justus and Kevin Paul). It was very tough training for two weeks.
As for Ho, who won the 5km open water event at last year’s championships he’s quietly confident. ‘Since World Champs things have been going really well, I’ve put in a lot of hard work and hours but nothing much has changed in terms of training sets etc.
‘I’ve only raced once internationally since then which was the World Cup leg in Abu Dhabi. I’m feeling good but don’t want to be over confident.
‘I would have liked to have raced a bit more so that my body is racing fit but it is what it is and I am going to give it my absolute all.’
Of the four South Africans, Prinsloo had the shortest travel to Setubal as he’s been based in Dubai for the last two years.
‘I’m the head of aquatics at Fit Republik, the biggest multi-sporting facility in the Middle East,’ he told Road to Rio 2016. ‘I’ve been here since 2014 so haven’t raced internationally for a long time.
‘I was training last year but only started to pick my training up in September of last year. This will be my first major international open water race since 2013 world champs so I’m definitely going in as an underdog. Training has been going well and I was pleased with where I was at SA nationals this year however I knew I had to step up my game if I wanted to be competitive in Portugal.
‘I’m happy with my training and preparation, I just feel that more racing would have been ideal. It hasn’t been easy with the training because of my work load. I wasn’t able to train and rest and then go back and train again. Obviously work is a main priority and focus so training was something additional. But I feel I’ve been able to handle the training load and my times have been faster in the pool so I feel I’m in a good place. This weekend is going to be some brutal racing.’
The women will swim on Saturday (5pm SA time) and the men on Sunday. The Sado River is the competition venue and athletes will race for six laps of just over 1.6 kilometres.
In the picture are (left to right): Hadfield, Ho, coach Cedric Finch, Le Roux, Weber and Prinsloo