Organisers stick to harbour race limit
Organisers of a historic cross-harbour swim refused to raise the entrant quota of 1,000 people, but floated the idea of allocating more slots to individual participants by giving fewer berths to teams.
Ronnie Wong Man-chiu, honorary secretary of the Hong Kong Amateur Swimming Association, said a decision would be made after the four-day trials, set to begin today at the Tung Chung public pool.
The try-outs will determine who can join the 1.8-kilometre swim - last held in 1978 - from Lei Yue Mun to Quarry Bay Park on October 16.
Wong said that while the response to the event was 'encouraging', the limit on the number of participants would remain due to safety reasons.
'The quota was agreed with government departments. Because the race is the first in over 30 years, safety and control is our top priority,' he said.
More than 1,000 people registered for the time trials, vying to be selected among the top 500 performers.
The remaining slots, which are reserved for swimmers who have completed open-water races, have mostly been filled, according to organisers.
Current rules allow 400 individual swimmers to join, with the remainder of places reserved for teams. There must be an equal number of men and women, but half the quota in each category is reserved for experienced swimmers with records of finishing open-sea swimming races held by the association.
Wong also said organisers would work closely with the Environmental Protection Department on water quality, which became a concern after the Green Harbour Actions group warned that dirty water near shores could make at least 15 out of 1,000 swimmers sick.
'Given the historical trend and high tides, we still believe the water quality will be fine,' he said.
However, Wong said the association would discuss with environment officials if quick water monitoring tests could be conducted before the race. If not, the organiser could still conduct 'visual checks', Wong said.
The Environmental Protection Department takes water samples once a week and releases results more than a week after. This means swimmers will not get up-to-date information on water quality.
Separately, the association is seeking government permission to use public areas at the start and finish points of the race, which is expected to draw thousands of spectators.
Wong, who held talks with the government for years to plan the event, said it would be held at high tide when cleaner water from the sea flowed into the harbour from the east.
Department figures show the bacteria level, indicated by the number of E. coli units at a site near the race route, ranged from 180 units to 4,400 last year. The bacteria standard for a bathing beach is now set at 610.
The first cross-harbour swim was held in 1906. The last, in 1978, used a route between Tsim Sha Tsui and Queen's Pier in Central. The event was suspended owing to pollution and marine traffic.
The time, in minutes, it took Russian Danil Serebrenikov to swim England's 1.6km Lake Windermere race in 2009, setting a record