All eyes will be on Australian Nick Sloman when he dives in for the men’s elite race at the aQuellé Midmar Mile on Sunday.
Fresh from a fifth-place finish in the 10km event at the World Aquatics Championships in Doha, the 2019 Midmar champion has made his intentions clear – he’s out to break Chad Ho’s 2016 record of 17 minutes flat, having just missed the mark by one second five years ago.
But, aiming to give him a run for his money is young Bedfordview swimmer Matthew Caldwell, who recently took top honours in the final Midmar seeding event at Prime View Adventure & Leisure in Midrand, claiming the 1.5km race in a time of 17 minutes 33.
“I’m hoping to win – that would be very nice – but definitely a top three,” reckoned the confident 17-year-old. Asked whether he’d be providing a challenge to Sloman’s record attempt, his response was a simple: “100 per cent.”
One swimmer who was part of that race in 2019 when Sloman just missed the record was Reino von Wielligh who will be back at Midmar Dam this weekend to tackle the 16-Mile Charity Challenge to raise money for Happy Bundles before taking on the elite race. He’s backing Sloman all the way.
“That’s going to be a very interesting one. I remember the last time he came – he missed that record just, just. I was swimming but I remember seeing the videos – everybody’s standing there cheering him on – so I really hope that he can get that record because that would be a milestone,” said Von Wielligh, who himself will be aiming for a top-10 spot in the elite race.
Also in the mix is two-time Midmar champion Michael McGlynn, who finished in eighth place in the 10km marathon event at the 2021 Olympic Games. Having been out of action for some time, McGlynn will be something of a dark horse, while other top contenders include Connor Albertyn and Ruan Breytenbach – both also recently returned from competing at the World Aquatics Championships in Doha.
American teenager Max Spory is set to join the men's race following his victory in the OZ Mile in the USA, benefiting from a reciprocal agreement with the aQuellé Midmar Mile. This arrangement ensures that winners of each event are granted a trip to participate in the counterpart race.
Meanwhile, the elite women’s race could prove to be an intriguing one. 2023 champion Sharon van Rouwendaal, who recently claimed gold in the 10km and 5km events at the World Championships, will not be back to defend her title, leaving the race wide open, with no other international competitors in the mix.
Hoping to make her mark this year is Carli Antonopoulos (Top image) who finished sixth in last year’s race.
“It’s always fun being able to race against some international swimmers. We get the opportunity to learn from them but at the same time knowing that this year's Midmar will be won by a South African lady is exciting,” she said.
“You can never go into Midmar overly confident. It’s one of the toughest mile races for me as it’s just a straight line and you never know what the conditions will be like. Going in, I know I can rely on the training I’ve done and hopefully put together a good swim on the day.
“I think every elite swimmer hopes to win the Midmar mile at least once so that is definitely a goal of mine. But at the end of the day, if I can just get a really good swim with the correct line, then I'll be very happy,” added the TUKS student.
Other top contenders in the women’s race include Tory Earle, also straight from the World Championships in Doha.
“I’m feeling pretty good coming into Midmar,” she said. “Honestly, coming right off worlds I don’t have many expectations. I’m doing Midmar because I love this race.
It’s always such a vibe, and I always have the best fun, not only racing against my friends, but you’ve just got to love a race organised by Wayne [Riddin – Race Director].
“It’s also my home province and it’s been a while since I raced in KZN, so I’m really excited and looking forward to some fast racing.”
Others to look out for on Sunday will be Samantha Randle, who finished runner-up in 2022, as well as two-time Midmar champion Michelle Weber and Johannesburg swimmer Corné van Schalkwyk, still on the comeback trail after a serious car accident last year.
“I’ve done Midmar since I was six or seven years old so it’s always been the highlight of my year,” said Van Schalkwyk, who claimed the 1,5km title at the final Midmar seeding swim last month. “I love racing Midmar, I love being there – the atmosphere, the people and the dam is so beautiful.”
The aQuellé Midmar Mile takes place at Midmar Dam in KwaZulu-Natal from 8-11 February 2024. Entries will still be possible at the dam on race day but those wishing to enter should allow plenty of time for registration. Also, swimmers are advised that there will be no shuttle service between the finish and start areas, so participants must make their own arrangements to get to the start.
For more information, head to www.midmarmile.co.za
Photo credit: Action Photo SA