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World champ for PE

South Africa’s top open water swimmers will be able to pit themselves against the world’s best at the 20th MTN Nelson Mandela Bay Splash Festival in Port Elizabeth this Easter.

The festival’s watersports coordinator, Michael Zoetmulder, confirmed today that Bulgaria’s nine-time world champion Petar Stoychev would be among the contestants in the Nelson Mandela Bay Bell Buoy Challenge on 4 April.

He said there was also a ÔÇ£big chanceÔÇØ that Beijing Olympian Chad Ho ÔÇô who successfully defended his Spar Redhouse River Mile title this weekend ÔÇô would be among the starters. The latter recently also won the prestigious Midmar Mile.

ÔÇ£It is a new addition to the programme and it is attracting a lot of interest,ÔÇØ said Zoetmulder. The race, which starts and finishes at Hobie Beach, rounds the bell buoy in Algoa Bay for a total distance of seven kilometres.

Port Elizabeth’s Kyle Main, who is also hoping to take part, said it was a ÔÇ£huge privilegeÔÇØ for locals to be able to compete against a legend of the sport.

He said it would be interesting to see how Stoychev fared against Ho, whom he rated in the top three in the world over this distance. ÔÇ£Petar (Stoychev) is obviously known for ultra-distance swims, but he’ll be no slouch over the shorter course.ÔÇØ

Main said swimming out to sea was a very different proposition from normal open water swims, which often followed the coastline. ÔÇ£This is taking it one step further.

ÔÇ£If there is an outgoing tide, the way back will be a considerable challenge.ÔÇØ He said the conditions could turn it into the equivalent of a 10-kilometre swim.

Main said the event had the makings of becoming a second Robben Island Crossing and he expected swimmers from the Western Cape, where open water swimming was especially popular, to take part.

Stoychev, the only swimmer to cross the English Channel in under seven hours, is one of a number of overseas entrants expected to take part in the five international watersports events on this year’s programme.

Other events include the Nelson Mandela Bay Surf Ski Classic (April 2), Ocean Racing Series World Championships (April 3), King of Nelson Mandela Bay (April 5) as well as a freestyle jet ski competition featuring eight of the world’s top professionals.

According to Zoetmulder, the Bell Buoy Challenge would be billed as an eco-swim. ÔÇ£It is all about raising funds and awareness for Bayworld’s penguin programme.ÔÇØ

Entries for the watersports events at the Splash Festival, which takes place from 2-5 April, close on March 14. For more information, contact the festival office on 041 393 4844 or visit