South Africa’s oldest open-water swimming event will be seeking a new champion when the 91st edition of the SPAR River Mile takes to the water at Cannonville near Port Elizabeth on February 15.
Two-time winner Christopher Reid will not be returning to defend his title, as he has taken up a swimming scholarship at the University of Alabama in the United States.
Reid – who represented South Africa at the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China, last year – was also named the readers’ choice winner at last week’s SPAR Sport Elizabeth Homegrown Heroes Awards.
According to race organiser Michael Zoetmulder, the stage was now set for an epic tussle on the Sundays River between last year’s third and fifth-placed finishers Dylan Smith and Joshua Bellairs.
“They are probably the pre-race favourites as both of them have been doing exceptionally well this season in the open-water events.”
Also in with a chance would be the three Jones brothers (Jason, Wayne and Daniel), he said.
“The siblings could cause an upset, as they’ve dominated the aQuellé Ocean Racing Series so far.”
Veteran swimmer Byron Lockett, who already had a pair of victories to his name, should not be discounted either, said Zoetmulder.
He said the SPAR Ladies’ Mile would provide further nail biting action as last year’s gold medallist Kaley Gouws would once again be in the mix, along with wetsuit mile winner Tarryn Els and third-placed Hannah Haswell.
“In fact, all of the top five ladies from 2014 will be back this year, so it’s going to be a very interesting race.”
Another swimmer who is certain to attract attention is event stalwart Malcolm ‘Mally’ Richards.
The 82-year-old Jeffreys Bay resident has signed on for a staggering 62nd time, after getting his first taste of the mile swim as a 14-year-old schoolboy.
Three generations of Richards men will be represented on the day. Son Kevin, a six-time River Mile champion, and grandsons Sean and Marc have also confirmed their participation.
More than 1 600 participants took part in the two-day swimming festival last year.
Enter at www.rivermile.co.za or find SPAR EC in Action on Facebook for more information.