Come on in, the water's fine. There's a new event on the Olympic programme and it's destined to become a hardy highlight. After 20 years of long-distance swimmers begging and pleading, the International Olympic Committee has given a slot to the 10km open-water race, the gruelling marathon of the water world. The IOC's reluctance to add events stems from the fact the games have got too big. There are too many sports, too many disciplines and events, too many athletes - a logistical head melt. They pledged to cap the number of athletes at 10,500 and only add new events if old ones were cut. Following a heap of number-juggling manoeuvres, they finally agreed to let 25 men and 25 women dive in for the inaugural open-water swim in Beijing. They won't regret it. Swimming was the star of the show in the Sydney and Athens Games and this addition will only beef up its credentials. The personal battles have made for compelling viewing: Ian Thorpe's incredible performances, complemented by Michael Phelps' half a dozen stunning victories last time round, have delivered heroic storylines from the pool at a time when track and field is reeking with doping scandals and struggling to regain its stature. No male swimmer has ever won the same event at three successive Olympics, but Beijing is offering us the tantalising prospect of three potential 'three-peats'. For one, 'The Flying Dutchman' Pieter van den Hoogenband is chasing his third 100 metres title. No doubt the Thorpedo will be looking to rain on that particular parade, and he himself will have his eye on a slice of immortality by taking his third gold in the 400 metres. Thorpe only took home the Athens gold by beating his Aussie compatriot, good friend and arch-rival Grant Hackett by one-tenth of a second. Friendship only goes so far, and Hackett took that one personally. He reckons he blew the race - he had heaps left in the tank and was storming up on Thorpe at the close, but left his attack a millisecond too late. Hackett - a record-breaking 17-time world champion - is not one to talk up his prospects but he says he won't let it happen again, and he's determined to send records tumbling in an effort to knock his mate with the size 17 flippers off his pedestal. But when it comes to the 1,500 metres freestyle, Hackett is lord of the realm, and his priority is to collect his hat-trick in that event. He pipped American Larsen Jensen and Welshman David Davies to the gold in Athens to add to his Sydney title, which was no mean feat considering it later transpired he had been swimming with a partially collapsed lung. That's the stuff of folklore, and it's gotta hurt. These are just some of the alluring prospects Beijing's aquatic centre is sure to serve up. The funky, futuristic 17,000-seater 'Water Cube' was funded entirely by donations from tycoons from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau, and come 2008 that'd be a good place to start if you're looking to mainline some of that Olympic spirit people talk about. But now, beyond that, we have a free-for-all lane-less battle that will take place beyond the confines of a chlorine-filled tiled rectangle. It's off to the Shunyi district of the capital for the open-water event, out near the airport to a part of town that affluent expats have invaded, sanitised and tried to make as un-Beijing-like as humanly possibly. Beyond the villas and dusty plains lies a lake where the canoeing and kayaking races will be held, and here too will see the first Olympic 10km swim. Are we happy? Yes. Do we have a problem? Er, maybe. Timing, those in the know tell us, is everything. The way the games work, organisers try to run off various events at different times throughout the 16 days. Swimming, for example, would normally be done and dusted in the first week. But many of the 1,500m stars would like to have a splash at the new event, and that can only happen if there is a decent gap between the two races. Remarkable athletes they may be, but even they need a breather before taking on a front crawl marathon. Hackett, for one, wants to try his hand at the big race. With his focus on the 1,500, his training 'only' involves clocking up about 75km a week, as opposed to the 90 or 100 that American Chip Petersen and other top open-water swimmers put in, but he wouldn't be a bad outside bet nonetheless. He was a decorated junior surf swimmer and spent years in the ocean training with his brother Craig, an ironman racer. The whole thing will be wrapped up in well under two hours, making it a readymade for television, and the addition of the likes of Hackett should set the ratings soaring. The IOC and Fina, the swimming federation, have secretive ways and don't tell the likes of me, or Hackett for that matter, what they're planning. The white smoke will rise soon, we're told, and a schedule shall be released. But for what it's worth, many in the swimming world reckon it'd be a good time to start bending rules, move around the scheduling and give the elite competitors a shot at the new race. They should do - there's a memorable moment in the making.