You’re standing on the edge of the Royal Victoria Dock in Docklands, staring at the stretch of water ahead of you. Ahead, hundreds of people are already swimming away, out towards the other side.
Don’t worry – it’s not a mass exodus. This is the scene at the Great British Gas London Swim, when around 5,000 people take the plunge in a one-mile open water route with the London skyline as the backdrop.
For many people the biggest challenge of open water swimming is overcoming the prospect of plunging into the Thames.
“Contrary to popular belief, the water quality is in fact very good and the Thames is now acknowledged to be one of the cleanest metropolitan rivers in the world,” says Great British Gas London Swim’s Philippa Morrow. “This is largely down to it being tidal.”
With minds set at ease, waves of 300 swimmers at a time will set off on May 26, accompanied by expert kayakers and safety boats which shadow their splashings every stroke of the way to ensure no-one gets into trouble .
As one of the fastest-growing Olympic sports in the UK, open water swimming is expected to be a particularly popular event at this year’s Games. In fact, Team GB medal hopeful Keri-Anne Payne will be taking part this year, grabbing the chance for a test event ahead of her bid to bring home a gold medal.
The swimming challenge was launched in 2008, the same year that Team GB won two medals in the Marathon 10k swim at the Beijing Olympics. It was the first time open water swimming had been included on the modern Olympic programme.
Even if you’re not an athlete, the freedom of swimming in the unfettered open water is still very accessible.
“Many of our competitors train in their local pools and the next logical step is to take their skills to the open water,” says Morrow. “We’ve seen an increase in the number of people wanting to try new sporting activities who may be daunted by the prospect of a run, but they know if they can manage 65 lengths of a pool they can complete a one mile swim, and have a great time doing it.”
Indeed, for many people, once they’ve experienced swimming without lanes, walls or chlorine, it can become very addictive.
“We’re really pleased to see the sport going from strength to strength and that we’ve been able to give people the opportunity to experience such an enjoyable way of staying active,” says Morrow.
The Great British Gas London Swim
Royal Victoria Dock
To register go to greatswim.org/london