ABOUT 400 people took part in the fourth Henley Mile swim in the River Thames on Sunday.
They were joined by 10km open water world champion and Olympic silver medallist Keri-Anne Payne, who took part in two races on the regatta course and later ran two coaching sessions.
The 26-year-old, from Edinburgh, said: “It was great, it was so fast swimming downstream. I looked up at the beginning and thought ‘that seems quite far away’ and all of a sudden I was at the finish.
“This was really about the beauty of open water swimming. Its popularity in Britain has skyrocketed over the last few years.”
She stressed the importance of clubs where people could swim together, improve their technique and experience safety in numbers while in the water.
Payne was joined by fellow Great Britain team members Tom Allen, Fern Davies and Caleb Hughes, along with South African elite swimmers Chad Ho and Michelle Webber, both of who have completed the Midmar Mile, the world’s largest open water swim.
Among the locals who took part was Kevin Dobson, of King James Way, Henley.
“At the age of 42, I needed to do something to keep fit,” he said. “It was tiring but it was good fun.
“As I live on the Thames, it was nice to get in and enjoy it.”
Anna Zatouroff, 50, of Park Road, Henley, said: “I just wanted to be able to say I’ve swum down the regatta course.”
Organiser Jeremy Laming, 44, said: “I was very pleased that the event seems to be bringing in some top-level elite swimmers as well as families. I was also pleased with the standard of racing as well as the fact we’re one of the only events where children as young as eight can come and swim with their parents.
“It’s very important to get youngsters involved and the point of the Henley Mile is much more grassroots than our Classic race so we attract more families. It’s a good first-time swim for people to do.” Mr Laming is a co-founder of the Henley Swim, which has set up four open water swimming clubs in Henley, Marlow, Oxford and Reading in conjunction with the Amateur Swimming Association.
The clubs aim to build on the growing popularity of the sport and create new swimming communities, giving swimmers access to safe, welcoming and structured open water training sessions.
Mr Laming said the four clubs had about 50 members in total and added: “My purpose in life is to introduce more people to the joy of open water swimming. It’s the fastest growing sport in the UK and we’re recognised as the Mecca of open water swimming at the moment.
“Henley Swim is trying to run innovative events really well so people come back year on year.”
The company also organises the Club to Pub and Bridge To Bridge open water events on the Thames.