Michael McGlynn didn’t know what to expect when he dived into the 29-degree water at Odaiba Marine Park in Tokyo on Thursday, and that made all the difference.
Competing in the gruelling 10km marathon swim at his first Olympics, the 21-year-old from Durban managed to overcome the steamy conditions and produce a top-10 performance, finishing just behind defending champion Ferry Weertman, in eighth place.
“This is my first time racing in this kind of heat so I had no experience of this but I think the naivety kind of helped me today,” he said.
“I was a bit worried going in, first Olympics, first final but I’m very happy, the stress is gone now.”
Even eventual winner, Florian Wellbrock, commented on the tough conditions.
"The first 7km was really easy. The water wasn't really warm, so then I kept up the pace but the last leg was horrible. The temperature today was the biggest competitor. I beat it and I beat everything in this race," said the German.
World champion Wellbrock led from the start to secure the gold ahead of Hungary’s Kristof Rasovszky who claimed the silver after finishing 25 seconds back with Italy’s Gregorio Paltrinieri taking the bronze.
McGlynn did well to hold back and conserve his energy in the first part of the race – a plan he’d put together with SA coach Wayne Riddin the night before.
“I started off a lot slower than I usually do,” he explained. “That was the first time I used that tactic so it was a very big risk but very big reward as well.”
McGlynn’s eighth place is the best finish to date for a South African since open water swimming was officially introduced to the Olympic programme in 2008. Chad Ho’s ninth in Beijing and 10th in Rio and Troyden Prinsloo’s 12th in London were the previous best finishes.
“I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet – like I’m eighth in the world. I’m sure when I get to bed tonight, I’ll be very happy.”
The other Africans in the race were Namibian Phillip Seidler who finished 16th and Tunisia’s 2012 open water gold medallist Ous Melloulie who finished 20th but immediately spoke about his aim of reaching a seventh Olympics in Paris three years from now, when he’ll be 40.