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Germany’s Reichert wins Hong Kong’s safe and clean harbour swim race

Reporting by Stephanie Burnett

Christian Reichert of Germany won Hong Kong’s cross-harbour swim race yesterday in a meet that event staff and swimmers called the safest and cleanest yet.

Reichert outshined his teammate and race favourite, Thomas Lurz, in the 1.5-kilometre open water race to become champion. It was the first time both swimmers took part in the Hong Kong meet.

“The race was great – it was perfect,” said Reichert.

2013 World Cup marathon champion Lurz attributed his fourth place result to a stomach virus he developed in China last week.

At 33 years old, Lurz is now considering retiring from professional swimming and expects to make a final decision in December, he said.

Clean and safe water

This year’s finishing line was moved from Sai Wan Ho to Quarry Bay to achieve better swimming conditions and to avoid pollution and injuries, according to several staff members.

This is the third time the cross-harbour race was held since 2011, after a 33-year hiatus. The annual swimming competition was suspended in 1979 due to excessive pollution.

Grace Fong, a 59-year-old local competitor, said the water in this year’s race was the cleanest yet. She was 17 when she completed her first cross-harbour swim meet, but said the experience was marred by pollutants in the water.  “[When I was 17] there was lots of oil in the water. When I finished I had black oil all over my body. Now you can see it’s much better here,” she said.

A flexible pontoon dock was built by the Hong Kong Sea School to prevent injury to swimmers climbing ashore at the finish line, said Will Wong, maritime study instructor of the Hong Kong Sea School.

Last year, approximately 80 swimmers suffered abrasions as they climbed onto the rocky shore, according to Ma Chun Wah, member of the Auxiliary Medical Services attending to the event.

Male swimmers cautious while swimming with women

However not all swimmers thought the race set-up was ideal. Some male swimmers criticised the simultaneous mixed-sex racing format because they felt energy had to be spent on being overcautious.

“I don’t like to start the race with girls because [I feel] I can’t be as tough as I would with the boys. I worry about hitting them,” said Jan Posmourny, a professional open swimmer from the Czech Republic.

Female swimmer Esme Chang from Hong Kong laughed off the concerns, but said she, noticed that “the guys do avoid hitting us girls.”

However Reichert and Lurz, the two leaders, said the mixed-gender swim didn’t bother them. “For me, it’s not a problem swimming with women,” Lurz said.

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