CAPE TOWN - RUNNING 10 kilometres is tough enough for the average person, but imagine swimming that far – in the ocean?
Not only that, but in water so warm that it almost resembles a jacuzzi!
That’s what South Africa’s Michelle Weber encountered in the 10km open water swimming marathon at the Tokyo Olympics yesterday.
The 24-year-old, who hails from Durban but now calls Franschhoek in the Western Cape home, participated on the biggest stage for the second time, following Rio 2016.
She finished in 18th position in Brazil as a 19-year-old, and going into Tokyo, she would have quietly considered herself as a potential medal prospect.
But Weber was greeted with a hot Wednesday morning in the Japanese capital. The forecast temperature was 33°C, and while the average for August at the Odaiba Marine Park is 26.3°C, Weber said it was 29°C yesterday.
She moved up to 17th position at one stage, but a difficult second half of the race saw her finish 21st out of 25 competitors in a time of two hours six minutes and 56.5 seconds.
Brazil’s Ana Cunha claimed the gold medal in 1:59:30.8, while Dutch defending champion Sharon van Rouwendaal was less than a second behind to take the silver in 1:59.31.7, with Kareena Lee of Australia clinching the bronze in 1:59:32.5.
“The race was quite tricky, very different to anything I’m used to.
The water temperature was like 29 degrees. So, very, very hot swim, but it is such an awesome experience to be here, to be on the biggest sporting stage,” Weber said from Tokyo.
In an interview with the Team SA website, she explained that it was hottest conditions she’d ever encountered, and that a lack of opportunities to prepare contributed to her performance.
“When I came here, I really did think I could medal. But, when I now reflect, I can understand why I didn’t.
“The conditions were incredibly difficult. Think of swimming in a jacuzzi for over two hours. We started off in a water temperature of 29 degrees, and it was pushing 30 degrees by the end of the race.
“I came here last week directly out of Cape Town. I’ve been training in Stellenbosch, where the pool water is 20 degrees, and I’d jump into the water where the outside temperature was three degrees.
“Meanwhile, the girl who won gold (Cunha), for example, has been preparing in Spain in 28 degree water for six weeks before coming here. She’s been in a training camp – as have many of those who finished in the top 10 – for three months.
“Our Covid lockdown and restrictions were longer and more stringent than so many other countries. Pools were closed, we couldn’t travel … we received no funding. So, my prep for these Games wasn’t good, but I came here and did the best I could.”
But that doesn’t mean her Olympic dream is over. Paris 2024 is on the horizon, and Weber wants to use the next three years to be ready – perhaps it will be third time lucky.