In the hours before the start of the first event, the 1.5km swim, the rain fell so heavily that roads flooded and public transport was halted. Instead, participants determined not to miss start made their way on foot. In the end, the start was delayed by 25 minutes to give everyone a chance to get there.
In the men’s race, Alex Meyer, who represented the US in marathon swimming at the London Olympics, was the first back in 18:08. He was closely followed by Paralympian Benjamin Proctor of the UK who competed in 2012 Games in the S14 classification. Eney Jones, a former professional triathlete and multiple masters swimming record holder, won the women’s race in 19:32.
As a measure of how competitive this swim was, the top 15 competitors all finished in under 20 minutes – and there wasn’t a wetsuit in sight to assist in faster times. However, while the racing at the front end might have been sharp, over 250 people took part with plenty taking more than 40 minutes. In addition, times and finish positions were not recorded for those taking part in the “Just for Fun” category.
The sun returned on day two in time for the 5k swim, which saw repeat wins for both Meyer and Jones (who have also both won this event in previous years). Jones later posted on social media: “It is an incredible event. This little tiny island in the middle of the sea means so very much to me.”
This year was the first time in the five years of its history that the event has featured a 10k race. This was won by 15-year-old Taylor Parker of Canada, who had placed fifth the day before in the 1.5k race. He was the youngest competitor in the field and this was his first 10k swim. Ex-professional triathlete Alison Hayden of the USA was the first woman home.
Since its inception, the Barbados Open Water Festival has expanded and now also offers guided practice open water swims in advance of the races at various locations around the island. Swimmers from more than 12 countries and as far away as Australia, Israel and Sweden took part. The 2017 Festival has already been scheduled to run from 1 to 5 November, with races taking place on the final two days.