Just under 500 local swimmers will be left disappointed when they find out tomorrow that they will not be able to take part in the first Hong Kong cross-harbour swimming race since 1978.
The lucky 1,000 who make it to the start on October 16 will have 90 minutes to complete the 1.8-kilometre race from Sam Ka Tsuen in Lei Yue Mun to Quarry Bay Park, or face being hauled out of the water by officials in boats so the channel can be reopened to harbour traffic.
Some see the race as a significant landmark on the road to a government plan to have the whole harbour clean enough to swim in by 2014.
'We have placed a limit of 1,000 for this year, but we will most certainly look at increasing numbers next year. All that will depend on how successfully we stage this race,' said Ronnie Wong Man-chiu, secretary general of the Hong Kong Amateur Swimming Association.
Event organisers faced fierce criticism for not accommodating larger numbers as well as participants from overseas. Australian Gary Claydon, who won the race the last time it was held, had his request turned down on the basis that he did not have a Hong Kong identity card.
A total of 1,482 swimmers have entered the race. The lucky 1,000 will be picked from the results of four qualifying time trials undertaken in a pool.
'Originally, we planned for 800 swimmers in this first year, but we increased the number to 1,000 after we received indications that there was plenty of interest out there,' Wong said. 'If things go well, we will expand the numbers next year. Our ultimate objective is to have this race from Tsim Sha Tsui to Central. But that will depend on the water in that area.
'The government has set a date of 2014 to clean up the entire harbour, so I hope by then we will have this race finishing in Central.'
Wong also revealed that organisers might look at combining the Marathon Swimming World Cup - an annual 10-kilometre open-water event set to be held today at Repulse Bay - with the cross-harbour race in the future.
'We might look at having the cross-harbour race first, with swimmers continuing the World Cup along the shoreline,' Wong said.
Open-water-swimming world champion Thomas Lurz of Germany, who is taking part in Repulse Bay, said yesterday: 'I would love to take part in the cross-harbour race one day. Hong Kong is such an attractive place and swimming across its harbour would be fun.'
The number of cross-harbour swimmers who participated in the race in 1978 (pictured), the last time the event was held