Open water competitors unfazed by sharks

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 June, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 June, 2004, 12:00am

Organisers of today's Panasonic Marathon World Cup have ensured competitors they have nothing to fear despite two shark sightings reported earlier this month at the same beach where the race will be held.

About 200 swimmers - 31 from overseas - will brave the waters off Repulse Bay for the fifth leg of the 13-leg competition. The 10km international race will provide a stiff test for the overseas competitors, but there are safety concerns following a second reported shark sighting at Repulse Bay on June 8. The beach was closed for nearly two hours as marine police and lifeguards searched the waters but found no sign of a shark.

Open water world number two Stephane Gomez of France was shocked to learn that a shark had been spotted off Hong Kong waters less than a fortnight ago.

'A shark? Really?' he said nervously. 'I hope there really isn't one,' said the 28-year-old Gomez, who sustained jellyfish stings at the last leg of the World Cup in Haikou, China, on Tuesday.

Dennis Miller, FINA Open Water Swimming Committee technical delegate, said he was confident there would be no incidents and that organisers had done their best to ensure the swimmers' safety.

Swimmers competing today should be worried because since 1991 all six confirmed attacks by sharks on humans were fatal. In 1995, three people were killed in a fortnight in the waters off Sai Kung alone, making Hong Kong one of the world's most dangerous places for shark attacks at one time.

'The organisers have a safety committee and they are aware of the situation for sure. We had a similar situation at the World Championships in Perth in 1998 when there were shark sightings, but the event went smoothly,' said Miller. 'Organisers will be using a patrol boat to ensure the safety of the swimmers.'

Gomez would not want another incident after the last leg of the competition in Haikou was thrown into disarray. 'I have encountered jellyfish and even manta rays, but never a shark and I hope I don't encounter one at Repulse Bay,' said Gomez, who will be battling for top spot with Bulgaria's Peter Stoychev, the current world number one, who won the last leg in Haikou.

The women's competition is expected to be hot with Australia's Shelley Clark and Yvette Halavacova of the Czech Republic battling it out for supremacy as the current world numbers three and four respectively.