THE Nelson Mandela Bay Bell Buoy Challenge, which takes place in Port Elizabeth next Saturday, has attracted a quality field and is shaping up to be one of the most keenly contested races in the challenge's four year history.
The Bell Buoy Challenge has gained the reputation of being Africa's toughest open water swim and has grabbed the imagination of a growing South African open water swimming fraternity.
A number of international athletes have also taken up the challenge.
The event has, in the past three editions, attracted athletes of the calibre of Australian Olympian and world championship medallist Melissa Gorman, Slovenian ace Rok Kerin and the legendary Bulgarian Petar Stoychov, along with South African Olympian Troyden Prinsloo, all of whom have claimed line honours.
"With the uncertainty of the 2013 Splash Festival, we had to downgrade the Bell Buoy swim from an international event to a low-key national event without prize money to ensure that it takes place, as we have just under 50 swimmers from around South Africa already entered for next weekend," race organiser Mike Zoetmulder said.
This year will see a field of about 50 taking part.
"For most of them this event has always been about the challenge of the ocean swim around the Bell Buoy and the overcoming of one's fears as they swim some 2.5km offshore," Zoetmulder said.
All eyes will be on promising star Kendal Wright in the swimsuit category and Wayne Jones in the wetsuit category.
Both have been in fine fettle this summer, with Jones being undefeated in the popular Ocean Racing Series 2km swim.
South Africa's first athlete to complete the coveted "Triple Crown" of marathon swimming, Gauteng swimmer Roger Finch, will also line up on the day alongside the likes of open water stalwarts PJ Duffy, Richard Jute and Richard Willimore.
Former South African pool champion Gary Albertyn can never be underestimated.
Brenton "Why crawl when you can fly" Williams will attempt to complete his second Bell Buoy Challenge swimming the entire event using the butterfly stroke.
In the women's event, Tammy Geyer has been impressive in the Ocean Racing Series this season and will certainly be the one to watch.
Talented national triathlete Angela Ackermann cannot be dismissed and should be up among the medal-winners.
In the field are also five swimmers who have competed in all the past Bell Buoy swims: Williams, Richden Jute, Ralph West, Stanford Slabbert and Mary-Anne Stott.