Living heritage of Hong Kong

3,000 swimmers take the plunge as annual cross-harbour race returns to centre of Hong Kong

Participants praise new route and better water quality

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 October, 2017, 12:46pm
UPDATED : Monday, 30 October, 2017, 4:04pm

Thousands of swimmers took the plunge into the briny, choppy waters of ­Victoria Harbour ­yesterday in the first cross- ­harbour race to start from the original site on Kowloon ­side to Hong Kong Island in nearly four decades.

A total of 2,943 participants took part in 14 race divisions and two leisure groups for the 1km swim from Tsim Sha Tsui public pier to Gold­en Bauhinia Square in Wan Chai, a move made possible by improved water quality in the central section of the harbour.

First held in 1906, the annual race has become a key event on the city’s sporting calendar. It originally covered a 1.6km route between Tsim Sha Tsui and the former Queen’s Pier in Central.

The fastest swimmer yesterday was Keith Sin Chin-ting, competing in the men’s open group A (age 17 to 34) and finishing in 11 minutes. His counterpart in the women’s open group, Nikita Lam Pac-tung, clocked in at 11 minutes 45.6 seconds.

Sunny Poon Ching-leung and Athena Wong Ching-lam won the international men’s and women’s races in 11 minutes 18.5 seconds and 11 minutes 45.1 seconds respectively.

“This was much better than [the previous route]. At least, we had a clear view of the finishing line and clearer sense of direction,” said Poon, 22, a student. “We were able to keep the convention centre’s logo in our sights. Previously, there were no iconic buildings to focus on, so it would be more chaotic.”

Although most swimmers praised the water quality, many noted a lingering taste of petrol in the water. Some also complained of confusing instructions at the starting line.

About 2,400 swimmers from all walks of life took part in the leisure swim. Among them was Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong, 63, who finished the swim under 30 minutes. “The currents were a bit tougher than I expected,” said the minister.

Mabel Leung Yuen-ying, 75, a master’s athlete and one of the oldest participants, said she had been looking forward to do the same route her father swam. “The water was beautiful, a bit salty, but clean,” she said. “I hope to come back next year. I will be training hard.”

Many swimmers, including professionals, also performed better due to the shorter route.

“It was fun. I enjoyed swimming in the harbour. When you breath, you can see Hong Kong from a different perspective,” said Olympic swimmer Camille Cheng Lily-mei, 24, who represented Hong Kong at last year’s Rio games.

“There were more waves than expected, so I swallowed a bit of water but … the route was shorter, and that was good for me because I’m more of a sprinter.”

Unlike last year’s event, where two people drowned, the race went without major incident. Only 13 people suffered minor injuries ranging from sprains to scratches, none requiring hospitalisation.

Hong Kong Amateur Swimming Association president Ronnie Wong Man-chiu, the co-organiser, said additional safety measures, including more safety canoes and boats, had been deployed this year.

The race took a 33-year break from 1978 to 2010 due to concerns over rising pollution levels in the harbour.

After resuming in 2011, the event was held on the relatively cleaner eastern side of the harbour between Lei Yue Mun on the eastern Kowloon peninsula and Sai Wan Ho on Hong Kong Island, covering a distance of 1.5km.

E coli in levels in the water of central Victoria Harbour have recently been deemed low enough for safe swimming.