PICTURES

2,000 swimmers cross Hong Kong harbour in gruelling race

Swimmers leave after finishing the annual 1.5km cross harbour race at Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong, Oct 6, 2013. -- PHOTO: AP
Swimmers leave after finishing the annual 1.5km cross harbour race at Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong, Oct 6, 2013. -- PHOTO: AP
Swimmers swim across Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong on Oct 6, 2013. -- PHOTO: AP
Swimmers swim across Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong on Oct 6, 2013. -- PHOTO: AP
A swimmer uses a smartphone protected with a waterproof case to take pictures as he swims across Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong on Oct 6, 2013. -- PHOTO: AFP
A swimmer uses a smartphone protected with a waterproof case to take pictures as he swims across Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong on Oct 6, 2013. -- PHOTO: AFP
Swimmers celebrate after swimming across Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong on Oct 6, 2013. -- PHOTO: AFP
Swimmers celebrate after swimming across Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong on Oct 6, 2013. -- PHOTO: AFP
Swimmers swim across Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong on Oct 6, 2013. -- PHOTO: AFP
Swimmers swim across Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong on Oct 6, 2013. -- PHOTO: AFP
Swimmers dive into the water as they participate in the Cross Harbour Race event in Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour Oct 6, 2013. Two thousand swimmers took to one of the world's busiest waterways in Hong Kong on Sunday to compete in a gruelling cro
Swimmers dive into the water as they participate in the Cross Harbour Race event in Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour Oct 6, 2013. Two thousand swimmers took to one of the world's busiest waterways in Hong Kong on Sunday to compete in a gruelling cross-harbour contest that traces its roots back more than a century. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (AFP) - Two thousand swimmers took to one of the world's busiest waterways in Hong Kong on Sunday to compete in a gruelling cross-harbour contest that traces its roots back more than a century.

Participants aged 12 to 75 raced from the Lei Yue Mun region of the Kowloon Peninsula to Quarry Bay on Hong Kong Island, in a course which stretches about 1.5 kilometres.

Thousands of swimmers wearing colourful swimming caps dived into the waters of the iconic Victoria Harbour at 8.30am, replacing the normal waterway traffic of ferries and cargo boats.

For the next three hours, the harbour was dotted with participants swimming against the stunning backdrop of the Hong Kong skyline filled with skyscrapers and mountains lit up by the morning sun.

"The Harbour Race is part of the collective memory of Hong Kong people," Hong Kong Amateur Swimming Association vice president Ng Kin-sun said.

For 34-year-old IT engineer Billy Chau, the event was a rare chance to swim in the iconic waterway.

"I'm very happy to take part in the race because it is difficult to swim in Victoria Harbour and it's hard to have so many people swimming together," he said.

"It will be very memorable for me and my friends, I will think back to this experience when I'm older," added 26-year-old Candy Law, a public relations officer.

Last year's event saw an increase in the enrolment limit from 1,800 to 2,000 as well as the inclusion of a new category to attract the world's top swimmers.

The race returned in 2011 after a 33-year suspension due to deteriorating water quality in the late seventies.

German open water events swimmer Christian Reichert, who won gold at the 2013 FINA World Championships in the five kilometre team pursuit relay, was the winner in the international male category with a time of 15 minutes and 45 seconds.

Poliana Okimoto of Brazil won the international female category with a time of 15 minutes and 56 seconds.

"It's really special, because you have the high buildings everywhere, you have a good view and that's awesome," Reichert said after his victory.

Twenty-year-old Ling Tin-yu, the winner in the 17-34 age category of the past two cross harbour races, repeated his success with a winning time of 18 minutes and 44 seconds.

The annual race is a tradition dating back to 1906. It was halted in 1978 due to a deterioration in water quality before being revived by popular demand in 2011.

Hong Kong is one of the world's busiest ports, with more than 410,000 vessels arriving and departing in 2011, according to official figures.