THE Nelson Mandela Bay Bell Buoy Challenge will test some of South Africa’s bravest open water swimmers when it takes place from Pollok Beach next Saturday.
World renowned as the toughest Indian Ocean swim, the event, presented by Jendamark, has earned a world class listing of former winners in just four years which includes Bulgarian Petar Stoychev, Australian world record-holder Melissa Gorman and Slovenian Rok Kerin.
Stoychev, arguably the greatest open water swimmer to compete in South Africa, was the inaugural winner in 2010, beating South African long-distance champion Tyron Venter by about five minutes.
The event has not attracted any overseas swimmers this time, but a strong field of South African contestants will be vying for the title.
“We aren’t expecting any overseas swimmers this year but have had huge interest from around the country,” race director Mike Zoetmulder said. “Already former South African swimming sensation Gary Albertyn has entered and interest has been shown by SA Olympic open water swimmer Troyden Prinsloo, the first South African to have won the Challenge back in 2012.”
More than 100 swimmers are expected to tackle the 5km swim from Pollok Beach straight out to sea around the bell buoy and back, making for a wonderful spectacle as the course will be lined with more than 40 water safety crew and craft.
The race has two categories of entry for swimmers who will swim in a wetsuit or the traditional swimsuit. This year, local automation company Jendamark has put up R10000 for the winners in the swimsuit category and R5000 lucky draw prizes.
Local favourites include swimsuit champion PJ Duffy and wetsuit champion Wayne Jones, who had fantastic races last year to become the first PE swimmers to win the Bell Buoy Challenge. Both have already achieved outstanding results in open water swimming this season, particularly in the Ocean Racing Series 2km swims.
Confirmed in the list of entries is Port Elizabeth stalwart Rob Connacher, who will turn 80 just three days before the event. Connacher is expected to be joined by the six legends of the Challenge, the only swimmers to have completed all Bell Buoy Challenge swims to date.
This group of local swimmers has Mary-Anne Stott as the only woman and also includes Richden Jute, Andre Kleynhans, Ralph West, Brenton Williams and disabled swimmer Stanford Slabbert.