Ho eyes four in a row
Three-time defending men's swimming champion Chad Ho faces a stiff challenge against fellow South African national colour bearers Troy Prinsloo, Myles Brown and Mark Randall in the Midmar Mile this weekend.
Prinsloo's former training partner at the University of Georgia and former European men's champion over 800m and 1500m, Sebastien Rouault, will also swim in this year's event.
Ho has always demonstrated supreme determination and focus in the Midmar Mile, and it is not expected to be any different this time around.
"I don't really worry about the other challengers," he 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."
Before Ho became the first man to win the Midmar Mile three times in succession, some other fine swimmers narrowly failed to achieve the feat.
Wayne Riddin, the event organiser of the past 21 years, won two in a row in 1975 and 1976, but was then beaten by Paul Blackbeard.
Jacques Marais won in 1978 and 1979, but not in 1980.
Graham Hill, South Africa's head swimming coach at the 2012 London Olympic Games, tasted victory in 1985 and 1986, but Shaun Rivalland took the win the following year.
Paul Fryer's bid for three in a row was thwarted by Ryk Neethling in 1994.
Neethling, a future Olympic gold medallist, was a 1500m freestyle specialist at the time. He won again in 1995 and would have been a good bet to win in 1996, but instead chose to focus on the Olympic Games.
Troy Prinsloo captured his first title in 2005 and successfully defended it in 2006.
However, his hopes of win No 3 vanished in 2007 when dangerous conditions led to the cancellation of the men's race – the only time a race has been cancelled in the history of the event.
After finishing third in 2009, former under-14 champion Ho raced to his first Midmar Mile open victory in 2010 and followed it with victories in 2011 and 2012 – each more convincing than the last.
"It meant a huge deal being the first person to do it in the 40 years of the event," he said.
"Hopefully I can continue that tradition and go on to four, five or even six, but we'll take it one year at a time. I'm very grateful that I was the first one to get three in a row."
The Midmar Mile is a lot shorter than the typical distance Ho competes over.
He placed ninth in the 10km open water swim at the Beijing Olympics in 2008; he won the bronze medal in the 5km open water swim at the World Championships in Rome in 2009; and he won the Fina Marathon Swimming World Cup Series in 2010.
However, he has been dominant since then over the shorter, 1600m distance of the Midmar Mile, opening a gap early on and swimming away from his nearest challengers.
"I don't know why I have been so strong at Midmar in the past few years. I guess that is just the competitive side of me coming through. I definitely look forward to Midmar every year," he said.
Ho said of his approach to the race: "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."
The Midmar Mile takes place on February 9 and 10 at the Midmar Dam, just outside Howick in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.