A SINGER, skier and stuntman were among 700 swimmers who leapt into the River Thames at sunrise for the ninth
A SINGER, skier and stuntman were among 700 swimmers who leapt into the River Thames at sunrise for the ninth annual Henley Classic.
Jamie Bruce, who appeared in the latest series of BBC reality show The Voice, was joined by former British Olympic skier Graham Bell and film stunt co-ordinator Gary Connery.
They all completed the 2.1km swim along the royal regatta course, beginning by Temple Island at 4.30am on Sunday.
Bruce, 34, of Reading Road, Henley, finished in 52 minutes and said: “It was hard work because I haven’t embarked on a challenge like that for many years.
“It wasn’t a race for me, it was just about completing it but I’m chuffed with how I did. Finishing in under an hour was very pleasing seeing as I’ve only been training for six weeks.”
He added: “Watching the sun come up in what I believe is the most beautiful part of the world made it a thoroughly enjoyable experience.”
Bruce’s flatmate Ben Hargreaves, a triathlon competitor who had encouraged him to take part, finished five minutes behind him.
The 33-year-old designer called the swim a “hell of an experience” after the disappointment of last year when the event was cancelled due to the dangerous river flow.
Mr Hargreaves said the conditions this time were perfect, adding: “The flow of the river was nice and the sun came out just as we were about to set off.
“It was nice to get Jamie involved because he’s always asking, ‘why do you keep doing these silly things?’ I told him, ‘you will see what it’s all about’ and now he’s done it he can.” Bell, of New Street, Henley, completed the course in 40 minutes.
He said: “Normally when I go swimming, which is three or four times a week, it’s by the Flower Pot pub in Aston or Marsh Lock.
“You don’t usually get to swim on the Henley reach so it was great to get out there.”
The 47-year-old, who has taken part in iron distance triathlons, including last year’s Challenge Henley, said: “When you do triathlons you want to get of out the water reasonably fresh before you get on the bike so have to hold back but when it’s just a swim you can give it everything.
“I tried to go really hard but I couldn’t sustain it in the middle of the course.
“You get into it and you’re full of adrenaline but it’s very difficult to sustain that kind of pace all the way through because it’s a long way.”
Connery, 44, of Station Road, Henley, finished the swim in an hour and one minute and said it was very different to the 2,400ft wingsuit jump he completed last year.
He said: “I’m a bit of a muppet for doing it having not swum for six years but I do love a challenge and when I was offered a place at the last minute I rose to the challenge.
“To get to the end was just fantastic. Where else other than Henley can you do something like that?”
For the first time in the history of the race, swimmers were grouped according to their ability. There was a separate category for elite entrants, who had to have competed at international level or in a GB elite swimming triathlon to qualify.
First to finish in this class was Alexander Studzinski, who completed the course in 24 minutes and 19 seconds.He was followed by Daniel Shorthouse, who finished in 25 minutes and three seconds. Andrew Horsfall- Turner was third in 25 minutes and 25 seconds.
Jordan Sexton, who finished in 28 minutes and 21 seconds, was first across the line in the junior category and 10th overall.
The winner of the open category was Joel Winter, who finished 12th overall. The Henley Classic is part of the Henley Swim, a series of events that take place on the regatta course every summer.
The event was launched in 2004 by former oarsmen Tom Kean and Jeremy Laming, who decided to swim the course they had rowed hundreds of times.
Mr Kean said: “We are immensely proud to be part of open water swimming’s resurgent popularity and hope our unique format appeals to the more discerning swimmers.”
The next event will be the Henley Mile, on July 14. This consists of a one-mile race for swimmers aged 14 and over and a half-mile race for those aged 10 to 14. There will also be a 200m race called the Henley Splash for eight to 13-year-olds.