British Olympic medallist Kerri-Anne Payne and nine-time world champion Thomas Lurz put on a super show at the British Gas Great Salford Swim.
The event, part of Manchester’s Great Day of Sport along with the Bupa Great Manchester Run and Powerade ION4 Great CityGames, proved a huge hit with 2,000 ordinary swimmers taking part in the one-mile outdoor swim at Salford Quays.
The event was broadcast live on BBC as part of its coverage of the launch of the Big Splash – a new initiative designed to inspire British people of all standards and abilities to take to the water.
BBC presenter Matt Baker and five-time Olympic gold medallist Ian Thorpe presented proceedings from Salford Quays as in-form Payne stole the show in the elite races.
The 2009 world champion led from the start in the 1-mile race before storming home in 17:33.91 with British teammate and Olympic bronze medallist Cassandra Patten (17:38.75) joining her on the podium in third.
Payne went off very strongly though Patten and Oberson were aways within touching distance with top Britons Amy Wilmott, Sophie Casson, Danielle Hall Jackson and Lucy Charles not far behind.
Payne gradually edged clear with 400m to go to win in 17:33.91 with a battle royal taking place behind her, which Oberson eventually won in 17:3.82 with Patten a close third in 17:38.75.
And Payne admitted the success of the event was a positive sign for the future.
“It was a good swim, a good performance and a good day for British swimming,” said Payne, who won last year’s British Gas Great East Swim. “I decided to just go for it right from the start. I’ve had a week off so thought it would be best to tray and lead from the off and the race went really well.
“I knew the other girls were close behind me so I was determined to keep going as fast as I could. It was fantastic to hear the spectators cheering me on, especially on my home soil. The atmosphere at the Great Swims is just brilliant. I’m really delighted.”
The men’s race was dominated in similarly emphatic style by Lurz, the reigning event champion.
He was pressed fairly closely for the first 1000m or so of the race by a pack of highly-talented open water swimmers in what is certainly the strongest field yet assembled in the British Gas Great Swim Series.
Top Britons Tom Allen and Dave Davies, who had beaten Lurz to the silver medal at Beijing, led the contenders with France’s Julien Sauvage – third in last year’s Salford event – and Greece’s Spyridon Gianniotis fettering well.
Also showing well were Britons Dan Fogg and Dave Carry plus another Frenchman Sebastien Roualt, Belgium’s Brian Ryckeman and Bulgaria’s English Channel swim record holder Petar Stoychev.
But Lurz pulled away down the home straight to win by 5m – in a time of 16:03.41 – from the fast-finishing Gianniotis – the 5k silver medallist at the 2009 world championships – in 16:06.25 and Sauvage (16:07.25), who just pipped Davies, Allen and Fogg to third place.
Lurz was delighted with his swim and said: “I felt very good from the start and was able to keep my momentum going though I could feel the presence of the other guys and knew the pressure was there.
“This is just fantastic venue for open water swimming. You can see and hear the crowd all the way around and it makes such a difference to her them cheering you on. It’s just a brilliant event and I’m delighted to have swum so well.”
While Payne and Patten – as well as Big Splash mascot Trunx – thrilled the crowds in the elite races, a number of celebrities and famous faces took part in the mass participation race – not least Blue Peter presenter Andy Akinwolere.
The 28-year old, who is confronting his life-long phobia of swimming in deep water as part of the Big Splash, admitted he had surpassed his expectations in Salford.
“It was massive for me because I was genuinely petrified of deep water,” said Akinwolere. “I finished in 40 minutes but I was expecting to do it in an hour so I managed to shave 15 minutes off which is fantastic. What the mind believes, the body achieves!”
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The event is part of the five-swim British Gas Great Swim series, which continues with the British Gas Great East Swim (11 June), the British Gas Great North Swim (17-19 June), the British Gas Great London Swim (2 July) and the British Gas Great Scottish Swim (24 September).