ABU DHABI // More than 600 swimmers ranging in age from seven and 65 will be taking the plunge in the first Abu Dhabi Swimming Festival tomorrow morning on the Corniche beach.
Enthusiasts from as far away as the United States will take part in the launch of what is hoped will be a steadily growing annual event. The American swimmers will be up against those from the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe, as well as swimmers from Jordan and Oman.
The feature race is the Waha Capital Mile, a demanding open water event with a prizes of Dh5,000 for the first male and female swimmers to cross the finish line.
The men's race, which launches the programme at 7am, is expected to be won with a time between 18 and 20 minutes, depending on the early morning conditions around the Abu Dhabi Breakwater.
Women contenders take to the water 10 minutes later with the winner due back on shore in just over 20 minutes. A time limit of 50 minutes has been imposed on the competitors for safety reasons.
Michael Batty, 65, an Australian who lives in Dubai, takes the distinction of being the oldest competitor at the festival. The female honour goes to Jay Wilkinson, another Australian, who is 59. They are both competing in the mile race.
The youngest entry is seven-year-old Finlay Payne, a member of Abu Dhabi's Dive In Club. He takes part in the other key category, the Etihad Splash Dash which has been divided into men's, women's and under 15s sections.
That event will start from the Heritage Village and finish on the public beach 700 metres away on the Corniche. A total of 13 events are scheduled in the festival, which will raise funds for the Abu Dhabi Special Care Centre's "Donate a Brick" campaign. Eight children from the centre are taking part in the Splash Dash.
Competitors in the mile race have paid Dh130 to take part while those in the Splash Dash have been charged Dh90. Children aged 15 or under pay Dh40.
The programme also includes some special challenge races allowing parents to compete as relay teams with their children.
Fran Halsall, the British international swimmer fresh from her successful Commonwealth Games campaign in India, where she had a gold medal in her five-medal haul, is the official starter of the festival.
"The original idea was to host a new open swimming water event, the first of its kind in the Emirates, which is more like a 10km community run and open to everyone than a swimming specialist regatta," said Jamie Cunningham, the chief executive of the organising company Professional Sports Group, who are staging the event under the patronage of Abu Dhabi Beaches.
"So there was scope for it and to celebrate the Corniche and the great beaches of Abu Dhabi.It doesn't matter if you're a professional swimmer, a recreational one or you just wanted to do it for the achievement, there are races to suit all abilities. Eventually, we want to create a unique event here in Abu Dhabi that will eventually rival the Midmar Mile in South Africa."
What: The first Abu Dhabi Swimming Festival, an open-water competition for all ages and abilities.
When: Tomorrow, 7am.
Where: Corniche beach.
Main event: Waha Capital Abu Dhabi Mile (1.6km). Men’s and women’s winners receive Dh5,000.
Team events: Relays and other races will be held for school, corporate and family teams.
Final event: Etihad Holidays Splash Dash (700m for adults, 200m for children). Men’s and women’s winners receive two airline tickets to Europe.
More information: www.swimabudhabi.com