The elite races at the aQuellé Midmar Mile saw Durban swimmer Michael McGlynn successfully defending the title he claimed for the first time last year while Olympian Michelle Weber regained the crown she last held in 2016.

Conditions at Midmar Dam, just outside Howick in KwaZulu-Natal, were ideal as the mist lifted to reveal glassy, flat water on the 1.6km course. Tackling a field of 20 other top-ranked women, Weber powered to the front from the start, hitting every hotspot at 400m, 800m and 1200m comfortably out in front.

Defending champion Robyn Kinghorn went well wide and it cost her, while 18-year-old Tori Earle followed Weber’s lead.

The Rio Olympian cruised to victory untroubled, finishing in 19 minutes and 40 seconds with Earle second in 19:55 and Carli Antonopoulos winning the running battle at the finish for third spot in 20:12.

“It went very well. I saw the conditions were really flat and I decided I’m going to dive off the pontoon, just take a few easy strokes, and get the feel of the whole vibe of the day. Then after that I just put my head down and went and got faster and faster, so it was a good race, I’m happy.

“I wasn’t sure where everyone else was, or how far they were behind me. I did see someone on the very right hand side [Kinghorn] but I just said to myself: ‘No, it’s fine, I’m just going to keep going.’ You don’t want to get too tense in open water because there’s so much going on – and there’s the fear of the dark water – it’s very easy to get overwhelmed. You just have to stay calm, enjoy it and have fun and do your best. That’s all you can do.”

Weber’s last victory in 2016 also came in an Olympic year, and with the 24-year-old looking to qualify for the Tokyo Games, she was thrilled with Sunday’s win.

“It’s so strange because I won it in 2016 which was Olympic year and then I didn’t win it last year so it was like a weird superstition thing. Now the Olympics have moved to this year so I’m very happy that I won this year – it’s just a mental thing.”

Meanwhile, a disappointed Kinghorn, who finished fifth, added: “Congrats to Michelle – she had a brilliant race. It’s definitely hard coming back as a defending champion and having a race like that. I wasn’t too happy with it, but it happens and you move on from it.”

McGlynn certainly felt the same pressure as he dived in as defending champion in the men’s race. Following a similar pattern to the women’s, he led from start to finish, hitting all the hotspots in front and crossing the line in 17 minutes 55. The tussle for the other places was a much fiercer one out in the water and on the slipway at the finish. Danie Marais eventually finished in second in 18:25 and 18-year-old Connor Buck in third six second later.

“Obviously the pressure was huge. It’s very different coming here the second time and trying to win compared to when you have no title and you’ve got nothing to lose,” admitted McGlynn. “But God gave me the strength and I just kept the faith that I would not fall apart and just keep it together really.

“This race is becoming more of a sprint. I’m not looking for any records or anything like that but it’s great to defend and walk away happy. It’s great to have the pressure off.”

Not since Chad Ho’s incredible run from 2010 to 2016 has there been a back-to-back winner of the men’s race, and McGlynn was thrilled to be the first since then.

“I know there’s been a bit of a gap recently with guys winning one and then not defending. I just wanted to really show that I can do that as well and thank you to everyone for the support.”

Speaking about the race itself, McGlynn added: “I went a bit off course actually, like I did last year. But I got back on track and just took it from there. My arms and legs were burning, but I’m just thankful that it’s done.

“The last three or four hundred metres I was really tired. But I didn’t want it to be over. I wanted to feel the pain because I actually wanted to remember this one. I think last year the hype afterwards kind of ran away with me but after a year I’m a bit more mature to deal with all the emotions that come with it this time.”

Second-placed Marais reckoned: “It was every man for himself. When you’re on that pontoon, you’re on your own – there’s no teamwork or anything. Midmar is all-out from beginning to end and I think I was just lucky to get second at the end.”

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