Courtesy: KJO Media
8 February 2023 – Thousands of swimmers are headed to Midmar Dam this weekend for what is expected to be a massive celebration of 50 years of the aQuellé Midmar Mile from 9-12 February.
Past winners, founders and those who have been part of the remarkable history of the iconic race, which was started by a handful of swimmers back in 1974, will converge on the shores of the KwaZulu-Natal dam.
One swimmer who is particularly eager to return to Midmar is two-time Olympian Michelle Weber. The 26-year-old missed last year’s event to concentrate on her bid to swim across the English Channel – a mission she accomplished in record time. Weber’s time of 10 hours and 21 minutes to complete the 32km swim from England to France was the fastest achieved by a South African woman.
Now her focus is back on the aQuellé Midmar Mile, the SA Open Water Championships and eventually next year’s Olympic Games in Paris.
Weber knows she’ll have her work cut out for her this year at Midmar, coming up against the current world champion over 10km and former Olympic champion, Sharon van Rouwendaal, visiting the race for the first time from the Netherlands.
“I think my main competition would obviously be Sharon. She was Olympic gold medallist in 2016 and she was silver medallist at the last Olympic Games so she’s a really strong competitor and she’s someone that I look up to and admire,” said Weber. “She’s a really great girl in and out of the water so I’m excited to race against her.”
Weber won the elite women’s title at the aQuellé Midmar Mile in 2016 and 2021 and believes that having swum the race since she was a child may just give her an edge.
“I think it’s not easy to get in the water, especially open water, and just put your head down and swim in a straight line. I think people forget that there are a lot of tactics that come into play,” she said. “A lot of people don’t know but there is a sneaky little current on the dam, but I guess you have to figure it out when you go there. I think I have a little bit of an advantage, but I guess it’s going to be the fastest swimmer that’s going to win it.”
Weber has had to change her training quite significantly since last year, reducing the massive mileage she did to prepare for the English Channel crossing and increasing her speed training. But she believes she has changed as a swimmer since she was last at Midmar in 2021.
“It really was one of the hardest swims I’ve ever done and I’m really glad that I did it. As a swimmer, I think I feel a lot more confident and mentally I feel a lot stronger. Obviously speed is one thing that I’ve lacked for quite a while so hopefully I’ll get that back together. I think I’m still a bit on cloud nine after the English Channel but I definitely feel a lot stronger,” she explained.
“It has been quite a bit of an adjustment but it’s going to be really cool to see where I’m at with my training and obviously racing with the other girls.”
Apart from testing herself against the other competitors, Weber is also relishing the opportunity to be part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the world’s largest open water swimming event.
“It’s so awesome. I’ve been following a lot of the articles and press around this being the 50th anniversary and all the people who are coming to the event,” she said. “It’s amazing that we have the first winner there, someone swimming their 50th Midmar Mile, we have the oldest and fastest swimmers there. All the legends are coming together so it’s quite exciting. It’s definitely going to be a special one.”
The aQuellé Midmar Mile takes place from 9-12 February 2023 at Midmar Dam in KwaZulu-Natal, with the Charity Challenge taking place on 9 and 10 February and the main events on 11 and 12 February. Online entries are now closed. Those still wishing to swim can enter on the day at the dam but should arrive two hours before their race. For more details, head to www.midmarmile.co.za