Ho gunning for fourth straight Midmar title
The Midmar Mile celebrates its 40th anniversary this weekend with triple defending champion Chad Ho strongly favoured to win once again when the race is held near Howick, in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.
The 22-year-old became the first man in history to win three titles in a row last year, although Sunday's elite men's race is expected to be slightly tighter compared to the 21 seconds victory margin last year.
Two-time winner and 2012 London Olympian Troy Prinsloo is expected to provide Ho with the strongest challenge, along with fellow South Africans Myles Brown and Mark Randall.
The biggest overseas threat is likely to come from Frenchman Sebastien Rouault, better known for his exploits in the pool, although Ho is unperturbed about his rivals in one of the world's most famous open-water swimming events.
“I don't really worry about the other challengers,” Ho 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.
“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.”
Ho first started swimming the 1.6 kilometres race at Midmar Dam when he was just seven years old in 1998.
He has rarely finished outside the top 10 at both junior and senior level, while he is the only man to win the race on three occasions – the other two are Ryk Neethling and Gareth Fowler.
Prinsloo caused plenty of pain for Ho in 2012 when he qualified for the London Olympics ahead of his more favoured compatriot in the 10km open water swim.
He is now looking forward to ending the champion's recent dominance at the annual race as well.
“We didn't start together last year, so I plan on starting together this time round,” Prinsloo said.
“That way we can be at the front of the race and put on a good show for everybody.
“If I can have a good start this year, unlike last year, by starting with Chad, it will be a good race, especially with Mark and Myles also there.”
Briton Keri-Anne Payne will be bidding for an eighth successive crown in the women's race.
The Johannesburg-born swimmer surpassed the record of six victories she held with Natasha Figge in 2012, but like Ho, she endured some disappointment by missing out on a medal in London when she came fourth in the 10km open water race.
She has already played down expectation this year and has had a little under two months to prepare after getting married late last year.
“I'm here on my own this time. There's no pressure on me," she said.
"I've achieved and I've proven myself time and time again, so this year is about enjoyment."
South African Michelle Weber, along with Hungary's Katinka Hosszu and American Ashley Twichell, will be her biggest rivals for the title.
Organisers are expecting a field of close to 14 000 competitors over the two-day event.