Swim Serpentine celebrated the first ever London Classics finishers, hosted thrilling elite races and saw thousands of swimmers take to the water in Hyde Park’s famous Serpentine lake.
Nearly 5000 people of all ages and abilities entered the open water swimming festival, now in its second year, to swim a series of distances from half a mile right up to six miles.
The elite men’s one mile race came down to a spectacular five-man sprint with the reigning world and Olympic open water swimming champion Ferry Weertman, from the Netherlands, just edging out teenage British swimmer Nathan Hughes.
Hughes, 17, almost secured the win of his life by claiming the scalp of the Olympic champion but misjudged his entrance to the finishing straight and missed out by just one second.
Weertman, who won in 17 minutes 16 seconds, said: “There were some of the top open water swimmers in the world here so he (Nathan) did really well and I hope to see him in international competitions in the future. From my perspective, I’m delighted with the win and pleased that I had the sprint at the beginning of a new season. It’s a great event in the centre of London and the crowds were fantastic. I missed swimming here at the London 2012 Olympics so it was nice to be able to come here and compete today.”
Hughes said: “It was frustrating because I just went the wrong side of the final buoy as my goggles had steamed up. I felt like I was strong at that point and had enough left and it would have been a great win. Just to be in this race competing against the Olympic champion and other great swimmers was a great opportunity and I hope to get more opportunities like this. I concentrated mainly on the pool last year but this coming season I think I’ll be mixing open water swimming with some of the longer distances in the pool.”
Finishing in third place was Weertman’s Dutch compatriot Pepijn Smits (17:19) with Britain’s Jack Burnell, who was fourth at this year’s World Championships, finishing 14th in his first race back from a two-month break.
Jazz Carlin, who won two silver medals in the pool at last year’s Rio Olympic Games over 400m and 800m, showed her potential in open water swimming by winning the elite women’s one mile race in 18:45.
Carlin said: “That was one of my first open water races so it’s always a bit of going into the unknown. It’s the start of my season and a good test to see where my fitness is at. It’s a great event and wonderful to see how many people are swimming here and enjoying it. That’s so great for the sport of swimming. My turns are not my strong point in the pool so it was nice to have no turns today. I’m very inexperienced in open water swimming so I’m really happy to have won.”
Sarah Bosslet, from Germany, gave Carlin a run for her money finishing two seconds further back in 18:47 while Britain’s Danielle Huskisson was third in 19:46.
The day kicked off with a dominant win by teenager Louis Hines (S14) in the para men’s race. The 19-year-old was a clear victor while Iain Dawson won the S13 category and Luke Reeson triumphed in the S9-S10 section.
Nerys Pearce, who is heading to Mexico in two weeks’ time to compete in the World Para Powerlifting Championships, retained her title with another dominant win in the S5-6 category while Paralympic gold medallist in the pool Susie Rodgers won the S7-8 category.
The highlight of the day for many was the London Classics waves as hundreds of participants finished the two-mile swim to complete the iconic trio of challenges: the Virgin Money London Marathon, Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 and Swim Serpentine.
Terry Bonnett, 38, from Wendover, was the first ever London Classics finisher while Sally Blick, 37, from Hastings, was the first female to finish the hat-trick of events. Double Olympic gold medallist Heather Stanning was the first of a number of famous faces to complete the challenge.
Stanning, who has done all three events in the one calendar year, said: “It was fantastic. I thought doing all the London Classics in one year would be a great challenge in my first year since retiring from rowing."
Another well-known London Classics finisher was BBC newsreader Sophie Raworth, who said: “I did it for the medal! I hadn’t swum in open water at all until two months ago and I was a bit nervous coming here today but it was lovely. I have lived in London all my life and never thought that I would swim in the Serpentine with so many other people. It was a great experience.”
A very select and hardy group of competitors took on the Super Six challenge which saw them swim six miles in various waves across the course of the day.
James Laming, 42, from Lincoln, was the first person to finish the Super Six challenge, swimming the two-mile distance three times.
“It’s the first time I’ve finished first in anything since I won a small race at Cubs when I was aged about nine,” laughed Laming, a secondary school teacher. “It was also the first time I’ve swum six miles. I had only done three miles straight before in my local lake in Lincoln and this was a fantastic experience.
Italian national Chiara Genovese, 35, who hails from Padua but has lived in London for eight years, was the first female to complete the Super Six challenge. Genovese was raising money for EMERGENCY and has raised £1,250 for the charity so far.
She said: “This was the longest swim I have ever done. Volunteers from my charity were here to support me and without them I would never have finished it.”
Other famous faces to take on the Swim Serpentine challenge were soul singer Carleen Anderson who completed the half mile wave while Olympic silver medal-winning rower Jess Eddie swam the two mile distance and is now just the Virgin Money London Marathon away from completing the London Classics.
Hugh Brasher, Swim Serpentine Event Director, said: "It has been an absolutely wonderful day at Swim Serpentine. Watching wave after wave of swimmers in this iconic setting and the huge crowd around the Serpentine Lake is an awe-inspiring sight and, in just its second year, this event is firmly established as one of the best open water swimming events in the world.
"This year we also saw the first people ever to complete the London Classics, one of the world's greatest sporting challenges, with hundreds of participants who have run the London Marathon, cycled the Prudential Ride London-Surrey 100 and finished the two mile swim today."