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Finding fame en route to Yrp

We decided to include in a visit to Europe the Bosphorus race in July 2014 in Istanbul, in Turkey. This was to be the 26th time the race was to be held with competitors from 45 countries.

After completing a somewhat lengthy application process, which included a medical examination with an ECG from our GP, we were advised in April we were officially on the start list.

Our preparation was less than ideal in the weeks leading up to the race (eating and drinking our way though Europe), and on arriving in Istanbul we were nervous as we crossed the Bosphorus by bus. We had heard from many people about the currents, even being reminded while we were in Hungary about Shakespeare's quote about the swirling Bosphorus.

The race was to be on Sunday, July 20, with registrations open from the Friday before the race. Being keen to be as prepared as possible, we headed across the city by tram and bus on Friday to register. We found the venue easily enough, with multiple signs, flags, and what appeared to be a mini-city in a local park set up for the race. After figuring out where the registration was, we headed over only to be told that registrations weren't open that day, but would be open the next day. Further enquiries (all a mix of Turkish and broken English) revealed it was a technical problem which couldn't be explained any further. However, boats would be operating to take us over the course and would be leaving soon.

Feeling a little deflated, knowing we would have to come back the following day, we went to the pontoon to wait for a boat. After quite some time, a boat appeared. We hopped on, and motored over to the race start, noticing a crate in the water and several other interesting objects. We also noticed the swirling currents and, after trying to understand the information briefing (Turkish, English and, for the large Russian contingent, in Russian) we understood the main take home message was: Keep to the middle, where the temperature was 2-3 degrees colder. There was going to be no time or looking at the beautiful palaces or fortress on the shore on race day: all energy would be on sighting our navigation spots so we didn't drift off course.

Race morning arrived. We headed to the race park and the athlete area to get ready. It seemed chaotic, with thousands of people crammed in, and the toilet lines were long. Worse was to come: the toilets didn't flush.

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Just before 9am, we boarded a very large barge, with green caps going first and yellow caps later. Ed and I had different coloured caps, so we were split up. It turned out that it didn’t really matter, with both caps colours mixing on the boat. After we arrived at the start, we waited some time until the doors opened and cheering started, presuming we were starting the race!

We slowly followed the crowd shuffling out onto a pontoon and jumped off. Unfortunately, due to the sheer numbers of people, and no order or instruction, people were jumping all over the place. After adjusting togs and goggles, I was off swimming, taking my own line and heading as planned to the middle of the Bosphorus to find the cooler water and the current.

Despite the myriad people who jumped into the Bosphorus, by the time I had swum 500m to the middle, I was alone. During the whole race, I passed 10 or so people from a distance and had only one person pass me. Rather than be concerned that I was not on the right line, I kept swimming, lifting my head periodically to make sure I was lining up the bridge in the far distance.

The water was similar temperature to early Summer in Queensland, and with the current assisting the swim, my arms felt strong and my body relaxed in the water. The difficulty came in trying to cross to the finish, not having seen what the actual finish looked like and crossing the currents.

As I approached the finish, there were a few people around and I decided to follow some of them. Suddenly, the stairs appeared and I climbed up and onto the pontoon. I walked up to my gear and passed a Russian girl who I had beaten being interviewed. I was surprised that there very few had finished, and I wondered how I had done.

Certificates were presented, and I saw I had done 53:54. Not bad for a 6.5 km swim! I waited at the gear to wait to see Ed. Not  long after, he came out and had completed the effort in 1:02, which pleased him.

We waited for the ceremony for the top three men and women. The big electronic scoreboard had the rolling results. To my surprise, I was 4th female overall and 1st in my age group. The medal ceremony for my first age group placing felt like I had won an Olympic gold with podium presentations complete with announcements in both Turkish and English. I had to stop myself from laughing. Despite the chaos, the Turkish people like to reward and celebrate, and for 30 seconds of my life I was a celebrity!

For those of you, thinking of doing the Bosphorus Cross Continental, it is an amazing race: only once each year is the strait closed, and you will get the opportunity to say you swam from Asia to Europe. And of course the Turkish food, culture and history are amazing.

Jane Stevens

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