Splash back to the future

Top News | Stella Wong 30 Oct 2017

About 3,000 people plunged into Victoria Harbour yesterday as a signature event returned to close to where it all started in 1906 with a swim across the harbor in the heart of Hong Kong for the first time in 39 years.

The race, also back for a seventh year since its cancellation because of pollution in 1978, started at 8.30am near the Star Ferry pier on the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront and ended at Wan Chai's Bauhinia Square at about 10am when all 2,943 starters finished the swim.

Twelve racing groups and one leisure group went on a route shorter than last year, which was from Lei Yue Mun to Quarry Bay.

There were a record 4,500 swimmers signing up this year for the event sponsored by New World, but only 3,000 qualified for yesterday's event.

And after two swimmers drowned last year the organizer deployed over 200 safety staff, lifeguards and health professionals this time around, which was 25 percent more than last year. There were also more than 80 safety craft - canoes, water scooters and speedboats - along the route, or 30 percent more than in 2016.

Star Ferry also stopped trips between Tsim Sha Tsui and Wan Chai trips from 7.50am to 10am.

Hong Kong Amateur Swimming Association president Ronnie Wong Man-chiu said the safety index was at least 50 percent higher than last year as the route was 500 meters shorter while more people were on watch.

There were also pre-race instructions from experts on handling a current.

Thirteen swimmers required attention, three with cramp and 10 with skin abrasions. But none required hospital treatment.

Mabel Leung Yeun-ying, the oldest swimmer at 75, was excited about the resumption of the swim across the heart of Victoria Harbour, recalling that her father and a grandparent swam this way 40 years ago.

"I'm very happy I'm the third generation in the family to swim this route," she said.

The youngest participant, Yoyo Cheung Sze-yu, 12, said the starting point seemed crowded with groups of 600 swimmers starting together.

"I was behind another swimmer," she said. "When we set off the swimmer kicked me in the face."

In the international race, Sunny Poon Ching-leung crossed the line in 11 minutes 18.5 seconds, while Athena Wong Ching-lam was women's champion on 11 minutes 45.1 seconds.

But the fastest swimmer was in the men's open group for 17- to 34-year- olds, with winner Keith Sin Chin-ting clocking 11 minutes flat.

The race, which began in 1906, was stopped from 1978 to 2010 due to the dirty water but resumed in 2011.

The boy's champion for the 12-16 age group, William Thorley, said he saw what he believed to be rubbish floating on the surface though the water quality was acceptable. But the mass of competitors said the harbor water seemed to be good and they did not see any rubbish.

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