Olympics-Swimming-Open water is next big thing for South African Ho

By Mark Gleeson CAPE TOWN, July 30 (Reuters) - The marathon is the blue riband race that brings the athletics programme at the Olympic Games to a fitting close but swimming's equivalent is still an emerging event and a long way off enjoying the same gravitas, says open water world champion Chad Ho. The South African is part of a 25-man field for the 10-kilometre race on Aug. 16 at Fort Copacabana against the backdrop of the world's most famous beach which will bring the swimming programme at the Rio Games to a close. "We could definitely do with a lot more recognition for the sport," Ho told Reuters. "I can understand that people don't want to sit down and watch an event for two hours; they want racing to be over in a matter of seconds. "But if you actually watch the race there are so many things that go on. It's just as exciting as the pool events. A lot of races end in photo finishes. But I feel it's on the way up." It will be only the third time the event has been held at the Olympics. "I can see it getting very popular," added Ho, winner of the 5km race at last year's world championships in Kazan. The Olympics does not have a 5km event but Ho's focus is usually on the 10km, in which he finished less than a minute behind American Jordan Wilimovsky in Kazan. "Being the world champion at 5km title could help me to a certain extent but I swim both distances and have no preference," Ho said. "This is a race where there are no favourites, where past times don't really matter. It all depends on the day, who wants it most, who is feeling good, who takes the right line. All 25 have a realistic shot at the medal. The sea conditions also pay a big part," he said as he prepared to depart for Rio. The location for the open water swim has been flagged for the potential of water-born diseases but Ho says he swam the course in December and the water quality was fine. "I feel it's not an issue at all. I didn't see any pollution. Obviously with the Zika virus it's a concern but we have to be careful and take precautions." The Cinderella nature of open water swimming means the 26-year-old Ho is very much the "other Chad" in the South African team, behind Chad Le Clos who won the Olympic 200 metres butterfly title in London four years ago. "In a way I'm grateful I stay under the radar," Ho said. "I can live a good social life and not have to worry about being in the newspapers. Whatever he does is in the spotlight and makes headlines. But on the other hand it would be nice to get a bit more recognition for being a world champion but I think that time will come." (Editing by Ed Osmond)