The world’s top open water swimmer, Bulgaria’s Petar Stoychev, proved just that when he won the World Ocean Swim segment of the inaugural Ocean Racing Series World Championships at the MTN Nelson Mandela Bay Splash Festival in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.

The nine-times world champion and holder of the fastest crossing of the English Channel won a closely-fought battle against Durban’s Luke Nisbet after a relatively sedate start on a two-lap course off Hobie Beach.

Stoychev completed the 2km swim, which took place in perfect albeit slightly cool water conditions, in 24:28. Nisbet crossed the line 12 seconds later in 24:40 with Australia’s Andrew Mosel third in 25:01.

Australia’s 5km world champion Melissa Gorman, who had set a Commonwealth record in the 1 500m at the recent Australian National Championships in Sydney, was a comfortable winner of the women’s race and placed third overall in 24:50.

The former Zimbabwean now competing for New Zealand, Brenda Russell, was second in 26:20 with PE teenager Carmell Billson third in 26:29.

“It was very hard. It is the first time that I’ve competed in a race that starts and finishes on the beach,” said the 33-year-old Stoychev.

He praised the young Natalian whom he had to fend off until the bitter end. “The second guy was very fast. I was worried about the run at the end – I’m not used to that.”

The Hall of Fame inductee said he had no time to think about tactics. “I just went as fast as possible towards the end. I was tired, it was so quick.”

The 24-year-old Nisbet said he was on Stoychev’s feet at the last turn, but then the latter “accelerated and pulled a small gap”. “Winning would’ve been nice, but I’m happy with my result.”

Gorman was up with the leading men’s pack at the back end of the first lap. “I was a bit shocked actually. I felt really good out there. The conditions were beautiful – kinda similar to Australia really.”

The World Ocean Paddle title, over 6km, was won by PE’s Ryan Louw in 1:27:07. Mosel took his second medal of the championships when he finished runner-up in 1:27:55 with another local boy, Scott Johnson, third in 1:28:23.

New Zealand’s Katie Pocock, Molokai champion and the number one ranked paddler in the world, placed fourth overall in 1:28:35 to win the women’s title. Michelle Eder from Amanzimtoti in KwaZulu-Natal took silver in 1:29:10 with Candice Falzon of Australia taking bronze in 1:32:22.

“It was a really quick start and I could feel yesterday’s paddle (Nelson Mandela Bay Surf Ski Classic) in my muscles,” said Louw. “I knew Andrew (Mosel) is quick into and out of the water, so I tried to get rid of him early on.”

“I went out hard to test him, but he stayed on my wave. I got a slightly better line around the top beacon on the second lap and put in a hard interval and pulled a gap. From there it was a sprint to the finish.”

Marinus Johnson of PE transferred his unbeaten run in the Axxess DSL Ocean Racing Series to the 5km World Ocean Run.

After a tactical start, the 24-year-old clocked a fast 15:06 to hold off team-mate Robbie Matthys by five seconds. New Zealand’s Leyden Tolhurst, the current New Zealand Beach Series champion, finished third in 15:39.

The women’s title went to the Friendly City’s Kirsty Weir in 18:05, with PE girls Mariëtte Hattingh (18:41) and Liandré Pretorius (19:35) completing the podium.

“I decided to kick a kilometre before the turn,” said an ecstatic Johnson. “Fortunately Robbie came with me so we could work together.”

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MTN Nelson Mandela Bay Splash Festival