World champion heads strong international challenge at aQuellé Midmar Mile

The 50th anniversary of the aQuellé Midmar Mile received a massive boost with the confirmation that open water world champion Sharon van Rouwendaal will compete in next month’s event. The... Read more
World champion heads strong international challenge at aQuellé Midmar Mile

The 50th anniversary of the aQuellé Midmar Mile received a massive boost with the confirmation that open water world champion Sharon van Rouwendaal will compete in next month’s event.

The Dutch star is the current world champion over 10km after claiming the open water title in Budapest last year and is also a former Olympic champion – having taken gold at the Rio Games in 2016. She followed that up with silver in Tokyo in 2021.

Van Rouwendaal is relishing the prospect of a first trip to South Africa and is eager to see what she can achieve over the shorter 1.6km distance across Midmar Dam in KwaZulu-Natal.

“I haven’t been in South Africa before but I’ve heard about the Midmar Mile a lot because I saw all these big athletes going there every year,” said the 29-year-old. “It’s super-famous and it’s also known as one of the biggest events with the most people participating.

“I’m looking forward to meeting new people and trying to motivate or help all the people there. I hope I can inspire them and have a positive vibe and enjoy the beautiful atmosphere.”

Van Rouwendaal is heading to Pretoria for 10 days of high-altitude training before travelling to Midmar, but there’s also one other thing on her to-do list during her time in South Africa.

“The biggest thing I want to do while I’m in South Africa is to go on a safari and see the real-life animals somewhere.”

As for competing in the aQuellé Midmar Mile for the first time, the Dutch star isn’t entirely sure what to expect, particularly over the shorter distance of 1.6km compared to her usual 10km.

“I don’t know who is participating in the event so I’m not super-confident about winning but of course you want to win it when you come over. I will give my 100 per cent and try to win it but I think the main thing is to have a good time with everybody and enjoy the moment.

“I feel good about swimming just 1.6km. It’s going to be a really fast race from the beginning on, I think. Normally when we do a 10km we try to build it up and pace it until the end. But not with 1.6km – you’re probably going to start at a high pace and keep it up until the end.”

Defending aQuellé Midmar Mile women’s champion Stephanie Houtman is looking forward to being put to the test against an icon of open water swimming.

“I have always admired Sharon because she’s such a professional and consistent performer at the highest level,” said Houtman.

“So I think it would be such a privilege to be able to swim in the same race as her,” added the Pretoria swimmer, who claimed her first Midmar title last year, winning in a time of 19 minutes 37 seconds.

For the first time, the winners of the Walmart OZ Mile Swim in Arkansas, USA will travel to South Africa to compete in the aQuellé Midmar Mile while, as part of the reciprocal agreement, this year’s Midmar winners will travel to compete in the next Walmart OZ Mile later in the year. That means Catherine Breed and Chad La Tourette will be lining up on the start in KwaZulu-Natal next month. Both swimmers have represented the USA in swimming.

Meanwhile, also providing some tough international competition to the men’s field are two UK swimmers, who were regulars at the event before the Covid pandemic, Ashley Hogg and Bailey Hairsine. Both have finished in the top 10 on several occasions – and Hogg as high as second in 2019 – so will be looking for podium performances once again this year.

Also in the mix are a team of Slovakian swimmers including national 5km champion in 2021 Tomáš Peciar and fellow national team members Samuel Čekan, Krisztián Gálik and Daniel van Wyk. With them will be Tomáš Vachan – head open water coach of the Slovak national team.

The aQuellé Midmar Mile takes place from 9-12 February. Pre-entry to participate in the event closes at midnight tonight, 25 January. Those still wishing to enter should head to www.midmarmile.co.za for all the details.

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