National Open Water squad has successful Camp in Lowveld - January 2018

Swimming South Africa (SSA) hosted a successful open water swimming Camp in the Lowveld Region in line with the SSA High Performance philosophy of “train and race” this past weekend. The Open Water Swimming Camp was attended by twenty three (23) SSA National Open Water Swimming Squad members.

The Camp formed part of a bigger group of leading local athletes, who were under the guidance of SA National Coach, Graham Hill. A group of 30 German Youth Squad athletes also attended the Camp.

The Camp culminated with round 1 of the 2018 SSA Grand Prix Series which was hosted by Mpumalanga Aquatics in Nelspruit. A 10km and 5km open water swimming event was held in conjunction with the highly successful LowMed Series 3 open water swimming event, which is a SSA OWS Approved Event.

The OW Camp saw some of South Africa’s promising exponents of open water swimming gather in Nelspruit to hone in their skills under the guidance of Lead Coach, Bianca Marais with some appropriate pool work. The challenge of the Camp was however, to gain much needed racing experience in a competitive environment. A combination of speed and endurance. To this end a 10km race on Friday afternoon at 15h00 hrs. followed by a 5km race on Saturday morning at 08h00 hrs.

The event took place at the picturesque Longmere Dam on the outskirts of White River. The venue provided an ideal 2.5km loop/course which was visible throughout the race to spectators.

The 10km race got underway with 20 athletes taking to the calm, clear and clean waters of Lognmere Dam. It was clear from the onset that the race was going to be a highly contested affair with a lead group of 12 swimmers heading out the field.

Due to the close proximity of the athletes contact was inevitable and Chief Referee, Neville Smith was called into action early in the contest. With the contact being unintentional athletes were cautioned and fair play resumed. It was tough going out there with the front four athletes, Henre’ Louw, Rebecca Meder, Dylan Wright and former World Junior Champion and Rio Olympian Michelle Weber matching each other stroke for stroke.

After the second feed the lead group fragmented and it was Henre’ Louw who seized the intuitive and effected a break. Within 600m both Meder and Weber had hauled him in. Weber tested the waters for about 400m and then swam in the group again. This was to be a familiar tactic for the next 3km with Meder and Louw responding well. Slightly off the pace, Dylan Wright was lurking

At the 9km mark Dylan Wright who had swum excellent lines and was in contention. With 350m to go and two buoys to negotiate it was anyone’s race. Weber successful gained the upper hand at the second last turn, with Wright hot on her heels. Meder and Louw were locked in a battle for the minor placing.

Weber extended her lead going around the last buoy and despite a courageous effort from Wright, Weber comfortably maintained her lead to claim overall line honor’s (1:57:28.95). A game Wright followed (1:57:36.25) with Rebecca Meder (1:58:02.65) outgunning Louw (1:58:03.14) in a keen sprint for the finish.

The Tygerburg Aquatics duo of Andrew Ritchie and Abi Meder claimed the minor placing with times of 1:59:05.68 and 2:01:23.05.

The first 11 swimmers all finished within 5 minutes of the winner.

There were 18 finishers. All finishers posted QT for 2018 SANAT OWS.

A satisfied Ronel Bekker from the MPA Executive had this to say after the event, " The Captain managed a well oiled machine and ensured smooth sailing"

A delighted Bianca Meyer spoke to every athlete individually as they excited the water, with all engaging an extended cool down swim after the race.

While the feeding was a challenge given the close contest of the race through the first two feeds, all went well thanks to the LowMed personal who lent a helping hand. For all it was an interesting learning curve.

The event was concluded with a debrief of Technical Officials while the athletes returned to the Country Boutique Hotel at the Ingwenyama Lodge for a well deserved ice bath, freshen up, dinner and a brief team meeting before heading off for a well earned early nights rest.

The swimmers were met with cool overcast conditions at Longmere Dam for the LowMed Series 3, 5km open water event on Saturday morning. With the water temperature a pleasant 22C the race got underway at 08h00 hrs. with all 23 Camp attendees heading out on the first of 2 laps of the 2.5km course.

All of the lead pack of the 10km where joined by fellow squad members and at the 1km mark the leading van had no less that 17 athletes in the pack. At 2km this was down to 15 which remained the same going through the first lap.

Louw once again laid down the challenge, but the leaders responded immediately, however the lead pack had become the lead line with swimmers extended over a 25m area. At the 3.5km mark there were 8 swimmers in the lead group. Weber, Louw, Rebecca Meder and Aiden Petersen picked up the pace going into the last kilo and once again there was to be an exciting tussle into the finish on the cards.

Weber (1:00:09.52) and Louw (1:00:01.53) moved ahead at the 300m mark, picking up the pace, while Petersen (1:00:18.53) showed great determination and courage to hang in there with the fast finishing Meder (1:00:18.56) to secure a podium finish.

The minor placing’s went to the Tygerburg Aquatics duo of Abi Meder (1:00:27.58) and Dylan Wright (1:00:19.59).

All 23 squad athletes completed the race with all 23 posting QT for 2018 SANAT OWS.

“I have nothing to complain about …..all went well” commented MPA OWSTC chairman Stolla Scholtz on conclusion of the event. That pretty much summed up a lot of things. Good job MPA / LowMed LOC.

With all the Camp participants completing the race, the squad trained on Saturday afternoon with a formal education and training session concluding the evening.

On Sunday the open water swimmers participated in nominated events at the SSA Grand Prix Series and on conclusion of the meet traveled back via bus to OR Tambo to board their flights back to homes. They return home tired, but a lot more “street wise” and for many new and cemented friendships that will endure for years to come.

The Pesident of Mpumalanga Aquatics and SSA Executive member Emile Van Veenhuyzen has this to say, "The Grand Prix Open Water event at Longmere Dam in White River was an excellent and much needed marketing opportunity to ignite interest in open water swimming in the Mpumalanga region."

"It is always a privilege to host some of the country’s top athletes and we trust SSA will include the Mpumalanga Grand Prix Open Water event as a fixed date on the annual swimming calendar."

"Since the Mpumalanga Grand Prix Open Water, a number of new swimmers have shown a sudden interested in participating in open water swimming, hence the decision to establish a formal LowMed open water series from next season. All four open water swimming events, including a first ever Mpumalanga Open Water Championships, will be SSA sanctioned events to ensure full value for money for all competitors."

"The festival atmosphere and other fun activities associated with open water swimming will not only  attract swimmers and their families, but will provide an alternative recreational activity for many swimmers not interested in gala competition."

"We trust Mpumalanga will for the first time in many years be well represented at the 2018 SA National Open Water Swimming Championships. We can’t wait for the 2018/2019 Open Water swimming season to start!" and enthusiastic Van Veenhuyzen concluded.

Harry Wiltshire, CEO of LowMed added, ""The LowMed open water swimming series has been a well supported event and has shown great growth since its inception in 2016. Mpumalanga swimming and SA open water swimming have contributed greatly with their experience, and with them as partners we envisage a positive future for Open water swimming not only in our series but in the province as as well."

A further three SSA High Performance Camps are being planned for 2018 and all will take place in the Lowveld region. The Ingwenyama Lodge provides the athlete with a wide range of excellent options coupled with superior accommodation and food. This will once again be the venue for the next Camp scheduled for May 2018.