Topics: Swimming Swimming Hong Kong Amateur Swimming Association Lei Yue Mun John Carney John.Carney@Scmp.Com

The last time Chow Sing-lam completed the cross-harbour swim, in 1965, he was so dirty afterwards that even his wife did not recognise him.

But if he swims in this year's race, he is confident he will emerge from the water a little bit cleaner.

Chow is hoping he will qualify to be one of the 1,000 swimmers to compete in the historic 1.8-kilometre race from Lei Yue Mun to Quarry Bay Park on October 16.

Half of the quota will be reserved for those who have met a minimum time requirement in 1,500-metre swimming races held by the organisers, the Hong Kong Amateur Swimming Association, or who have swum in open-water races. The remainder will go to the top performers in four 1,500-metre swimming time trials being held this month.

The first of the time trials for various age groups took place yesterday at Tung Chung public pool. All of them had to complete the distance in 45 minutes if they had any chance of qualifying. At 75, Chow was the oldest competitor to register. If he does make the cut, he says he has no doubt it will be a much better experience than in 1965.

'The pollution was very bad back then. After I finished my wife didn't know who I was because I was covered from head to toe in oil from the sea,' Chow said. 'But the government has done a good job in cleaning up the harbour, so it will be nowhere near as bad next month.'

For more than 40 years Chow swims daily in the sea near the harbourfront in Western district. Even in winter, he never misses his dip. 'Swimming in sea water is good for your health,' he said. 'I can swim long distances, so I am confident I'll make the qualifying time.'

Cheung Man-kuen did the cross-harbour swim in 1975 and also finished covered in filth. The 59-year-old is hoping to take part again, but says pollution won't be the only obstacle. 'When you are swimming across the harbour, the other side seems so far away. It's like you're not getting any closer, no matter how hard you swim,' he said.

At 12, Liao Siaoqiao was the youngest swimmer at the Tung Chung time trials yesterday. The Diocesan Girls' School pupil was upbeat about her chances. 'I'm confident I can make it because I train over long distances every day,' she said. 'I've also swum in open-water races before.'

Fourteen-year-old Dominic Chan Chi-kin, a pupil at the Jockey Club College in Sha Tin, had another reason for making the starting line-up.

'If I qualify for the cross-harbour swim it'll mean my mum will have to let me go swimming instead of making me study,' he said.

More than 1,400 swimmers will take part in the four-day time trials, and the association will list successful entrants on its website on October 3.