Reid faces stern test to defend River Mile title

DEFENDING champion Christopher Reid will be the one to beat when more than 800 swimmers take to the water for the 90th Spar River Mile feature races at Cannonville on Sunday.

Reid will be looking to deliver a strong performance in Africa's oldest open-water swim as he vies for a spot in the national team for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in July.

The 18-year-old has just returned from Australia where he represented South Africa in the pool alongside Chad le Clos during the Aquatic Super Series earlier this month.

"He's certainly doing exceptionally well," River Mile organiser Michael Zoetmulder, of Zports Event Management, said.

He said Reid would however face tough competition from two-time champion Byron Lockett.

Lockett, who won the race in 2007 and 2008, will be aiming to make a comeback in this year's event.

"He's back in the water and training, and certainly has a chance of pulling it off. He's only 22 but has a lot of experience and could certainly come through. We don't want to write him off," Zoetmulder said.

In the ladies' mile, Kirsten Marriott is the odds-on favourite to win after dominating the Ocean Racing Series over the 1km distance this season.

This week, she finished just outside the top 10 in the 5km swim at the national aquatic championships at Midmar Dam near Pietermaritzburg.

All eyes will be on the 17-year-old contender, as Olympian Jessica Roux is taking a break from competitive swimming and will not be back to defend her title.

Paralympic gold medallist Kevin Paul will have a fifth consecutive win in his sights when he plunges in for the disabled mile.

The Jones brothers – Wayne, Jason and Daniel – are also expected to sweep the podium once again in the wetsuit race.

Zoetmulder said a special highlight of the festival would be the Kings Across the River race.

Nine EP Kings rugby players – including Michael Killian, Paul Schoolman and Shakes Soyizwapi – will be out of their element as they tackle the width of the Sundays River.

"It starts at 1pm on Sunday and there will be a special autograph signing session for kids after that."

Zoetmulder said organisers were expecting more than 7000 visitors to attend the two-day swimming festival, with more than 1600 participants across all events.

The racing starts tomorrow with a fun run, off-road cycle, half-mile swim and wetsuit mile events.

On Sunday, the action continues with the kids' swimming races, including one for children with special needs, before wrapping up with the two feature races from 1.30pm.