Courtesy: Swimming South Africa
12 March 2023 – Connor Buck emerged as the dominant force at the SA Open Water Championships at Marina Martinique near Jeffreys Bay over the weekend.
There was double delight for the Durban swimmer as he claimed victory in both the men’s 5km and 10km races, the events in which World Championships qualification was up for grabs.
It was particularly satisfying for the 20-year-old after just missing out on both titles last year and having to settle for second place. This time round he made sure he was just in front when he and Perth-based Byron Kimber engaged in a thrilling sprint for the finish in the 10km race. Buck took the victory in 1 hour 59:22.59 with Kimber second in 1:59:23.34.
The consolation for Kimber is that the top two swimmers qualify for selection to the World Championships this July in Budapest.
Buck was back on top in the men’s 5km race on Sunday, this time beating Matthew Caldwell to the title in 57:23.70. Caldwell was well back in second in 57:49.67.
“I’m super-excited. Obviously last year I was just beaten in both races so to claim first place this time for both, I’m super-happy,” said Buck afterwards.
“It’s the first time I’ve got an overall title at open water nationals and I’ve been wanting it for a long time,” added Buck, who will head to the USA after the World Championships to begin his actuarial science degree at Princeton University.
After his second place in the 10km and third place in the 5km, Kimber was pleased with his performance, having travelled from Australia to compete in the championships.
“I’m super-stoked with the overall performance. The races were tough on both of them but I’m stoked to have qualified for the worlds in the 10km.
“Unfortunately, I couldn’t quite make it in the 5km, those boys were super-quick. But I’m really happy with my races and I can’t wait to come back next year.”
Meanwhile, it was 17-year-old Caldwell who also excelled in the junior races, taking victory in the 3km (34:43.68) and 7.5km (1:31:25.00).
“It’s been a good racing weekend. First in the 3km, first in the 7.5 and second in the 5k so I’m very happy with that,” he said.
In the women’s races, another 17-year-old, Callan Lotter, outgunned her more experienced rivals to take the title in the 10km race. The Tuks swimmers edged in front of Tory Earle to win in 2 hours 08:54:01 with Earle second in 2:08:55.23. Defending champion Amica de Jager came in third in 2:09.01.50.
“I had a really good race. I just tried to stay in the front group for most of the time and then see what I could do at the end of the race,” said Lotter, adding that swimming with the likes of De Jager and two-time Olympian Michelle Weber (who eventually finished 10th) made all the difference.
“It was really nice swimming with them because they helped me go faster and keep the right pace throughout the race,” added Lotter, who also secured the win in the 7,5km junior race in 1:35:49.52, which formed part of the 10km.
The 5km race saw victory going the way of US-based Kate Beavon, who took the title in a time of 1 hour 02:13.87. De Jager made up for the disappointment of just missing out on qualification in the 10km but finishing second and securing a spot at the World Championships in the shorter event. Her time was 1:02:14.28.
“I’m very happy with my performance. I didn’t expect to win it as it’s only my third 5km and I knew the competition was going to be extremely tough so I’m really happy with it and how everyone else performed,” said Beavon.
An ecstatic De Jager added: “I’m so, so happy with that. It was absolutely incredible. It was such a great race. There’s a group of such strong competitors in the ladies [field] and it’s so incredible to race with them. I absolutely loved it.
“I just gave it my all and I definitely played a bit more strategy [in the 5km]. It was great.”
Leigh McMorran, meanwhile, took top honours in the women’s 3km race, winning in a time of 38:54.70.
For many of the swimmers, focus now shifts to the pool and the SA National Championships which take place in Gqeberha from 12-16 April.
I would love to do this race, if I ever get the chance to go to South Africa.