The Midmar Mile race committee has announced that the 48th annual event has been postponed by one month due to the “second wave of Covid-19 infections.” It is planned to take place on March 13th and 14th, 2021 in Midmar Dam, just outside of Pietermaritzburg, South Africa with multiple Covid-19 precautions.
The race provides opportunities to swimmers of all levels, from family and company relays, to internationally-elite competitors. In past years, these competitors have included Team USA’s Ashley Twichell, who won the 5k at the 2017 world Championships, South African national team member Michelle Weber, who won the 2012 FINA junior 5k title, and South African Olympian Mark Meyer. Last year, two-time Olympian Chad Ho placed 2nd for the men, followed by South African national champion and Georgia commit Henré Louw.
The Midmar Mile has held the Guinness World Record title for the largest open water race in the world since 2009 when it had 13,755 finishers. In 2013, the number of entrants swelled to over 18,000 and in 2020 the race had more than 13,000 entries and a total of 11,869 finishers.
In the committee’s recent statement, Midmar Mile Race Director Wayne Riddin said, “Safety is always the highest priority at the Midmar Mile, and this year we obviously have many additional considerations with regard to Covid-19 and minimising the risk of transmission at events.”
“We are also respectful of the pressure that hospitals and medical staff are under at this time.”
Riddin also notes that this postponement is potentially helpful to the open water athletes who have had a difficult time training since Covid-19 regulations have closed dams, rivers, and beaches. This extra month can “give entrants extra time to prepare,” he said.
The event announced further Covid-19 precautions on Monday, including that they will be providing athletes with a face mask before registration, and a second one after they exit the water. Instead of sending off the swimmers in heats of 500-600 as they normally do, they will send swimmers in reduced heats of 100.
A 4th safety strategy that is under consideration by KZN Wildlife and the race safety committee is to hold the event over a longer time period than its traditional two days.
“We cannot be complacent within the current situation,” Riddin said in the recent statement.
“The 2021 aQuellé Midmar Mile will be a very different event to previous years, but we are confident we can deliver a safe event space for participants to enjoy one of the highlights in their swimming calendar.”
Riddin was the South Africa team head coach and manager during 2000 Olympic Games, and he has won the Midmar mile twice. Other distinguished members of this long standing tradition include Mike “Buthie” Arbuthnot, Mike Pengelly, and Gail Bristow who have competed in every Midmar Mile since the first one in 1974 — all 47 of them.
Bristow finished the first Midmar Mile in 1974 at 14 years old, though her participation was not counted and she was denied a medal because women weren’t officially allowed to enter. Pengelly also swam one of his 47 Midmar Miles unofficially. Arbuthnot, one of race founders, finished last year’s Midmar Mile at 87 years old after battling cancer twice during his lifetime.
South Africa has reported 1.17 million cases of Covid-19 and 31,809 deaths during the pandemic relative to their population of 58.78 million people which was recorded in 2018.
You can read the official Midmar Mile race committee statement here.