Sports pundits might sooner pick Chad Ho as a rugby flanker than a swimmer. Thick-set, of average height, he lacks the prototypical torpedo shape of the aquatic racer. But Ho is no ordinary swimmer. Preferring 10km ordeals in open ocean to dashes across the pool, his game is to swimming what the Comrades is to running.
“In primary school my mom insisted I did everything,” recalls Ho, but it was only at Westville Boys’ High that he specialised in swimming. He was good in the pool, but quickly realised he had magic over the long haul.
Ho completed his first open water race at age six, and took on the Midmar Mile the next year. “From there I was hooked,” he says.
In 2004 he won the under-14 section at Midmar, and in 2005 the teenager powered to seventh in the men’s event.
He was happy to race in the middle of the field and kick late, but competitors became wary of the late-charging Ho. To avoid blocking and other roughhousing in the pack, Ho learnt to lead from the gun, watching his wake for attacks.
The new strategy and an unchanged work ethic took Ho to the Beijing Olympics in 2008, where he earned an admirable ninth place in the 10km event. At 18, he was the youngest in the field, too.
In 2009 Ho won bronze at the 5km World Championships, and announced himself as a world- beater the next year, winning the gruelling Fina Marathon Swimming World Cup Series.
Now nearing the end of a four-year plan, swimming some five hours a day, gymming once a day, and winning the past three Midmar Miles, Ho has his sights locked on the London Games. “I’m expecting a great swim,” he says. “I’ve beaten the best before, and I can do it again.”
— Ian Macleod