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Weber on top of the world as she seals her Olympic spot in Setubal
- Updated: June 12, 2016
By Mark Etheridge
Durban swimmer Michelle Weber dazzled her way onto Team South Africa for the Rio Olympics later this year as she ended sixth in the Fina Marathon Olympic 10km open water qualifying race in Portugal on Saturday.
Needing to finish in the top nine in the Setubal race to grab her spot, the teenager dug deep to clock a time of 1hr 55min 49.70sec for the 10km event as China’s Xin Xin won in 1:55:12.10.
South African born Keri-Anne Payne was runner-up, the Briton timed at 1:55:12.90 and Ecuador’s Samantha Arevalo third in 1:55:15.90.
South Africa’s only other swimmer in the women’s race, Carmen le Roux ended 23rd in 2:03:41.50, meaning she will miss out on this year’s Olympics.
An elated Cedric Finch, one of two coaches with the four-strong contingent (Chad Ho and Troy Prinsloo swim their race on Sunday afternoon) shared his thoughts with Road to Rio 2016.
Pictured with Weber above, Cape Town’s Finch said: ‘It was a tough race but she was always up front in second-third spot. Conditions were good in the beginning but changed as the race progressed. There was a strong wind and very strong current on the back straight which made for choppy conditions.
’But Michelle held on well… the front pack was about 30 strong for the first three of six laps. Michelle only fed on lap three and it was this lap that the pack broke up but it was still 20 strong.’
On the fourth lap, the leading bunch was whittled down still further but was still made up of 15 swimmers.
‘At the start of the fifth lap a surge by the Chinese and Michelle split the pack up completely,’ said Finch. ‘They strung out the field and there was now only 10 in the lead pack.’
The last lap dawned and Payne then surged into the lead as Weber hung in bravely.
’On the back stretch the camel’s back was broken. It was single file swimming to the end. All the hard work Michelle did in the first few rounds was always going to tell. She was safe though and hung on for dear life as she piped the Aussie to sixth place.
‘It was a hard and well earned Olympic qualifying swim. Well done Michelle,’ concluded Finch.
Weber beat Australia’s Kareena Lee by 0.50sec and the final qualifying spot went to Britain’s Danielle Huskisson in a time of 1:56.04.60.
A total of 44 competitors finished the event with one disqualified and three non-finishers.
As for the woman of the moment and Weber, pictured above in her proudly South African racing gear, was a world of overwhelming emotions.
‘Absolutely overwhelmed about the race.. it just hasn’t sunk in yet,’ she told Road to Rio 2016, early on Sunday morning.
‘It’s been so very hard the last four years, remember the heart operation I had in 2013, there have just been so many ups and downs. My mom had cancer in 2012 and now she’s got it again and is on chemotherapy right now. The last chemo session is in a week’s time and then she goes for radiation. It’s the third time she’s had cancer, so as I say it’s been so hard the last four years.’
A deeply religious soul, the bubbly teenager went on to describe her race and swears she had some divine intervention.
‘This was God’s hand, I have no doubt he helped me. It was just the perfect race from start to finish – everything worked perfectly. There were often two packs, one on my left and one on the right off me with about 10 swimmers in each and I was in middle. Then one pack would sprint past and and I’d have clear water and go straight past them. Also I caught so many waves. I’d be lying fourth and catch a wave and be in front.
‘Also I had a free ride around the turning buoys. You really don’t want to be stuck there, it’s the absolute worse to be stuck around the buoys, they pull you under, they push you down, they swim over you.
‘I didn’t get stuck in any of that stuff. I normally struggle so much there but didn’t have that once .. so it was a miracle. And again, a couple of times I’d catch a wave around the buoy and like I’d just go past five swimmers etc and be first around the buoy. It’s weird, I just don’t know how to explain it but God put his hand in the race and helped me,’
Weber was also quick to give thanks where it’s due. ‘I’m so, so thankful to my parents and three siblings [she has an older sister and a younger brother and sister]. My parents [Graeme and Helene] have sacrificed everything into this dream of mine. Since I was 11 I’ve dreamt of becoming an Olympian.
’Us athletes need so much support, physically and mentally. We’ve also had our struggles at home but often just when you think you have it bad then you hear someone else’s story and are just so much more thankful. I’ve had just the very best support structure by family and friends and coaches.’
So what’s next for the little Durban teenager. ‘Well I train with Graham Hill and my prep leading into this race was spent in Doha with Chad le Clos, Myles Brown, Kevin Paul and Calvyn Justus. We do high altitude simulation and those camps always help me. It’s so tough that you are in tears but this is the reward.
‘Going onwards and I’m heading home tonight to sort out two more visas, a Schengen and United States visa. Early next month we got to Miami, Florida for more training and competition, so hopefuly those visas come through quickly. We’re also going to Italy with Graham and Chad for a training camp.
‘But I STILL can’t believe I’ve qualified… every minute and every hour that go by it sinks in a a little bit more .. and then I think “Oh my word I have qualified, it’s just happened..
‘Again I must emphasis I simply can’t do it without my friends, family coaches and support. Thanks to each and everyone who has played their part.’
The qualifying part is now done and dusted and it’s upward and onwards to the biggest moment of her career just before she turns 20… it’s game on in Rio.’
Meanwhile Weber’s fellow Durbanite, Le Roux took her painful experience squarely on the chin!
She told Road to Rio 2016: ‘Unfortunately it didn’t go too well but I don’t want to make any excuses. It is still a learning experience for me as it was only my second big international meet for 10km, and I am still very young in it.
‘I still have a lot to learn, and need to work on the tactics. I did try to stick with the front group, and for me the first three laps went quite well, but once they started picking up the pace I wasn’t quite aware and unfortunately lost the group.
‘My biggest mistake was to swim at the back of the group instead of swimming in the front or in the middle, I also had a little bit of a setback on one of my feedings as someone pulled me and held me back and that was also why I lost the group, and as we all know it is difficult when you’ve lost the group.
‘I believe with my fitness at this stage I could’ve swum up there with the front group. I now know what to fix and my tactics for Netherlands will be better. I believe everything happens for a reason, and I am looking forward to the future!’
Next up for her is the 10km at the Junior Open Water World Champs from 16-18 July.