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Thousands take to the water at inaugural Swim Serpentine

Thousands of swimmers made history today as they took on the one-mile mass-participation swim in the first of two action-packed days of the inaugural Swim Serpentine festival of open water swimming.

The conditions were perfect for the first mass-participation swim to be held in the famous lake as Team GB’s Rio 10k open water swimmer Jack Burnell sounded the horn to get the first of 13 waves of swimmers under way in front of a packed crowd of swimmers and spectators.

Temperatures in the water reached a balmy 18°C during the day as the Serpentine, venue for the open water swimming and triathlon swim at the London Olympic Games in 2012, saw another memorable day of action.

Burnell, who returns tomorrow for the British Open Water Swimming Championships, couldn’t resist taking a dip today and joined the second wave of swimmers - his first outing since Rio - alongside novices and charity fundraisers.

“To have so many swimmers here today is incredible,” said Burnell. “Mass-participation events such as Swim Serpentine really help raise the profile of the sport and for swimmers of all ages and abilities to come out in their vast numbers today and thoroughly enjoy the experience is so heartening for me to see. There’s been smiling faces everywhere you look.”

The Olympian took a more leisurely approach to his swim than usual. “For me, both today and tomorrow, it’s all about enjoyment. Mid-swim, I took the time to chat to fellow swimmers and whilst they were exhausted, they were elated at the same time and I’m sure every one of the spectators wanted to jump in as well.

“To be here today in this scenic location in the centre of London with beautiful weather, warm water and a carnival atmosphere is terrific for open water swimming. Today could mark a historic event that you can really see growing.”

Guy Davis, a member of the famous Serpentine Swim Club, became the first ever finisher at Swim Serpentine. The 57-year-old former Londoner, who now lives in New Hampshire (USA), emerged from the water to huge cheers from the grandstand as he completed the one-mile swim in an impressive 21:13.

“The fact that there were 4,000 entries for the very first event really illustrates how fantastic the appetite is for open water swimming,” he said. “It’s apparent that there’s been an explosion of interest and with London Marathon Events bringing this event to the London 2012 venue, it’s a real thrill and you can’t help but want to be a part of it.

"There are many swimmers here today making a gutsy first step in open water, so providing such a experience really helps add momentum, which is so exciting.

“This is the perfect model, hugely accessible for swimmers, where you combine a fabulous city venue and natural viewing points for eager spectators, so I really hope this becomes a permanent fixture in the open water swimming calendar. Swim Serpentine suggests there’s an incredible future for open water swimming both in the UK and globally.”

25-year-old London student Lara Langston was the first woman to finish, coming home third in the first wave in 23:51. “I hadn’t planned to go as fast but it’s hard not to get swept up in the event. It’s my first event at this distance and it was amazing taking place in such a fantastic atmosphere. I love swimming somewhere which is so open and wild, where you can just continue swimming, a welcome change of scenery from the pool.”

Samuel Crabtree was the fastest male swimmer of the day, clocking 19:17 and Rebecca Wetten was the fastest woman in 20:33.

Among the famous faces taking to the water was BBC Breakfast presenter Louise Minchin. Swimming in the last wave of the day, Minchin, a keen triathlete who has represented Great Britain at the World Triathlon Championships, gained a useful taster of what’s to come ahead of her race tomorrow in the British Open Water Swimming Championships.

“I love open water swimming,” said the 48-year-old. “There’s nothing more exhilarating than swimming out in the open water. It can be beautiful, extreme and is such a fantastic thing to do, just like today has proved, surrounded by a beautiful view.

Whatever level you are swimming at, whether doing breaststroke the whole way or stopping for a rest every now and then, everyone taking part was really up for it, having a great time with the aim of having fun, which everyone did.”

There was plenty to enjoy away from the water for the thousands of spectators, ranging from paddle boating, water zorbing and face-painting for the kids, to virtual reality experiences involving surfing and swimming with dolphins.

Action gets underway tomorrow (Sunday) at 08:30 with races for para men and women followed by the British Open Water Swimming Championships for all age groups and invitation races for elite men and women.