Making a splash for 90 years

Thulani Gqirana

THE iconic River Mile, Africa's oldest open water swimming event, is celebrating its 90th anniversary today and organisers are hoping to attract a record number of participants this year.

Starting off with just 48 participants at Redhouse on January 20 1924, nearly 1000 swimmers now compete in the annual event.

The first race saw 44 of the 48 men complete the swim. The women's quarter-mile race, replaced by the Ladies Mile race in 1987, was first held in 1932.

Organiser Mike Zoetmulder of Zports said he was excited about this year's River Mile.

"It's going to be a great one and with each year's growth, we are hoping to get 1000 swimmers for the Mile, and we know there will be hundreds who will be participating in the other weekend festival activities."

The River Mile, which was moved from Redhouse to Cannonville on the Sundays River in 2010 due to increasing water pollution in the Swartkops River, will be held on the weekend of February 15 and 16.

While swimming team rivalry is still strong, the event has become more popular with individual and social swimmers looking to complete their first mile swim.

Zoetmulder said they would have a big daylight screen this year so participants and spectators could see more of the action.

He said entries for the anniversary mile were still in the early stages and would be open until the last week running up to the event. All early Mile entrants will receive a free 90th anniversary T-shirt with their entry.

And the first 1000 swim entrants (across all swim events) will each receive a 90th anniversary silicone swim cap.

"Having been born in Redhouse, I've grown up with the River Mile and I'm honoured to be at the helm of this epic event as it celebrates its 90th anniversary," he said. "We're looking forward to a very exciting festival of activities next month and hope that many of the past winners will join us in the celebration."

Every year, swimmers keep on coming back to do the River Mile, with legend 81-year-old Mally Richards of Jeffreys Bay leading the pack. He has completed 60 River Mile swims since his first in 1947. "I have been swimming since I was a boy and this is what I enjoy the most. I am hoping to do this till I die," the Uitenhage-born pensioner said.

The 2014 Spar River Mile Festival will be an action-packed weekend with the Saturday – February 15 – featuring the Tavcor Volkswagen Family 5km Run, the Axxess DSL Off-Road Cycle, the Lion Roars Family Half Mile and the Disabled and Wetsuit Mile events.

The Sunday morning starts off with the Kids "Across-the-River" races for those children 12 years and under who are not taking part in the Mile events.

This is followed by the Ladies Mile at 1.30pm and the Men's Mile at 2.30pm.

Entries are available at