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Swimmers get ready to enter the water at Golden Bauhinia Square in Wan Chai at the start of the New World Harbour Race. Photo: Sam Tsang

New World Harbour Race: Kwok makes sure he doesn’t repeat mistakes of the past, while Wong leaves it late in women’s race

  • Kwok Chun-hei claims men’s title to ensure double family celebration at grandfather’s birthday lunch
  • The Hong Kong swimmer finished third last year after going the wrong way, but ensured that didn’t happen again

More than 1,200 swimmers turned out for the New World Harbour Race on Sunday, although one unfortunate athlete was forced to withdraw after testing positive for Covid-19.

Crossing the one-kilometre route from Wan Chai to Tsim Sha Tsui, Kwok Chun-hei, a member of the Hong Kong team, won the men’s race in a time of 14 minutes and 25.6 seconds, while Athena Wong Ching-lam claimed the women’s title in 15:11.4.

Kwok, who came third last year, spent Saturday studying the course so he did not make the same mistake as in 2021, when he went the wrong way when leading.

Men’s and women’s champions Anthea Wong (left) and Kwok Chun-hei. Photo: K. Y. Cheng

“I swam the wrong way midway through the race last year and therefore I went to both Wan Chai and Tsim Sha Tsui yesterday to check the course to make sure not making the same mistake,” said Kwok, who competes over 800m and 1,500m in the pool.

“But I still missed the finishing board today and fortunately I have built up a sufficient lead over my rivals and still managed to be the first to touch the bell.”

Kwok’s win meant there was a double celebration in the family, with his grandfather’s birthday lunch take place as well.

“They all came to see me and we will go to a nearby restaurant for a buffet to celebrate my win and grandfather’s birthday,” the Baptist University student said.

Wong, meanwhile, said she thought the course had been better this year than last, especially when it came to the quality of the water, which in 2021 smelled “something like petrol”.

“Apparently they have done something to clean the water,” said the 200m and 400m individual medley specialist.

“I struggled a bit in the start as it was some congestion on the pontoon with everyone striving for a better starting position. I was not among the fastest group in the beginning as there were many orange hats (male swimmers) ahead of me, but then I dashed for the finish with a few hundred metres left to win the race.”

The first leisure group leave the start at Wan Chai in the New World Harbour Race. Photo: Jonathan Wong

Leo Sum Ka-lok and Chan Tsun-hin finished second and third in the men’s race in times of 14:28.5 and 14:30.1, respectively, while Natalie Lam Cheuk-ue and Tung Sze-mang took the same positions in the women’s race in 15:13.7 and 15:17.1.

There were 50 swimmers in each of the elite races, with the rest of the competitors starting in four leisure groups in waves of 500 because of Covid-19 restrictions imposed by the government.

Ronnie Wong Man-chiu, president of the Hong Kong Swimming Association, was not surprised to see around 1,200 swimmers turn out for the race.

“There are bound to be someone who miss the race for different reasons as it happens in many other sports events,” Wong, a three-time harbour race champion, said.

“But still we plan to have more numbers next year as the harbour race is very popular in Hong Kong. The entry numbers are always more than the allowed quota and we need to conduct a draw for the lucky ones.”

Swimmers begin the journey across Victoria Harbour to Tsim Sha Tsui. Photo: Sam Tsang

The official said they had received 6,000 entries when there were only 4,000 places when the race was last held before the pandemic, in 2018. This year, there were 3,400 applications for the 1,500 spots.

“If the pandemic continues to ease, we want 3,000 to 4,000 next year with an ultimate target of making it a 10,000 swimmer race,” Wong said. “We will start discussions with the government as we plan for a bigger race next year.”

Wong said one swimmer was sent home after testing positive for Covid-19 before the race because the safety of the participants was “always of paramount importance for the organisers”.

Commissioner of Sports Yeung Tak-keung was happy to see the race finish without any major incidents, and revealed there had been concerns over the weather, with a tropical depression in the area.

“We were worried about the weather at one point as the rules state the race has to cancel even under typhoon number one signal,” Yeung said at the prize presentation. “But today the swimmers had no complains of the conditions and everyone was happy.

“We will discuss with the organisers regarding the number of participants for next year but if the pandemic situation continues to improve, there is always room for more.”