A swimming marathon may be a boost to athletes, tourism and good regional relations.
By Miki Trajkovski for Southeast European Times in Ohrid -- 03/09/2013
Marathon swimmers train in Ohrid. [Miki Trajkovski/SETimes]
A new swimming marathon organised jointly by Macedonia and Albania would be one of the biggest Balkan sporting events and is expected to draw tourists while improving relations between the two countries.
Macedonian sports officials proposed and envisioned the marathon to be a 40-kilometre race from Podgradec, Albania to Ohrid, Macedonia, and expect some of the region and the world's best swimmers to participate.
"Sport can be the best ambassador for the entire region. Through joint organisation of a marathon we will all contribute to improving relations between the two countries and to reducing regional tensions," Nikola Malenko, secretary of the Ohridski Branovi (Ohrid waves) swimming club in Ohrid, told SETimes.
Malenko said Albanian sportspeople have expressed great interest in seeing the marathon become a reality because there is no marathon swimming in Albania.
"This event will also attract many foreign guests as well. It will be something new for us all living around the lake, especially for the citizens of Albania," he added.
The idea was born after a similar marathon around the island of Hvar in Croatia, said Koco Paskali, president of Ohridski Branovi.
"We will form an initiative council next, together with Podgradec and Struga, to organise it next summer as an international marathon in which all towns around Lake Ohrid will participate. This way we want to send a strong message for friendship and co-operation, and to let the voice of our region be heard," Paskali said.
Paskali said contacts have already been established and will begin preparations this winter.
"We want the marathon to be held in June when Macedonia and Albania will announce the beginning of the tourist season," Saso Tockov, marathon swimmer from Ohrid, said.
"The special aspect of it is the swimmers will swim from one country to another," Tockov told SETimes.
The city of Ohrid has had its own swimming marathon for the past 27 years -- a 30-kilometre stretch from the St. Naum tourist complex to Ohrid. That marathon is listed on the World Swimming Federation (FINA) calendar and swimmers have ranked it among the world's top five.
"The new marathon, however, will not be part of the Grand Prix series to which the Ohrid marathon belongs. But it will be a very interesting one. Swimmers will swim from Ohrid to Struga to Lin ending in Podgradec or vice versa," Malenko said.
"It will be something new for both countries and a new way to connect the towns around Ohrid Lake. This marathon will be a challenge for us swimmers as well because the lake is hard to swim," marathon swimmer Nikola Kutanovski told SETimes.
Joint sport activities have not been organised in the region, which is another reason to support the marathon, said Stojanka Palko of Podgradec in Albania and member of the Association for Sports, Youth and Culture Ilinden.
"It will be beneficial for both countries and the three towns on the Ohrid Lake because this way inter-cultural co-operation will strengthen," Palko told SETimes.
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