Swimming will undergo a makeover when the inaugural Singapore Swim Stars, a three-day festival, hits local shores.
The Sept 5-7 event, anchored by the opening day's Singapore Swim Stars Challenge and Synchronised Swimming Show at the Singapore Sports Hub's OCBC Aquatic Centre, will feature a unique competition format and one of swimming's biggest prize purses in a bid to jazz up the sport and draw in the masses.
Gone are the preliminary heats and semi-finals, a staple at most swimming meets.
Instead, each race will feature eight of the world's fastest swimmers - who will be here by invitation - and they will battle it out in direct finals.
Said Harald Eltvedt, partner at Sports Swim Organisation, the Singapore Swim Stars event organisers: "We know that people like swimming, because when you look at the Olympics, they are the most viewed events on TV.
"But what do they like? They like to see the finals, they like to see Michael Phelps, and records being broken. That's what we chose to focus on."
A total of 10 titles - the men's and women's 100m freestyle, butterfly, breaststroke and backstroke, as well as the 50m free - are up for grabs at the event sponsored by Coca-Cola Singapore and Speedo.
For both the 50m free events, the eight swimmers in each will face two elimination races, culminating in a one-on-one showdown to determine the fastest man or woman in the pool.
The $200,000 prize purse will be shared only among the 10 winners, making the swimming meet with one of the single highest payouts for victories.
For example, swimmers get US$1,500 (S$1,900) for each race win at the Fina Swimming World Cup series, a short-course meet spread over eight legs, while gold medallists at last year's World Championships in Barcelona got US$15,000 for each triumph.
On the prize money, Eltvedt said: "For swimming, it's a decent amount of money, and they will also be paid an appearance fee, but they are not just coming for the money."
Another allure is that this is the "first world-class, long-course event in this part of the world".
The other comparable event in Asia is the Fina Swimming World Cup series though it is a short-course meet.
Eltvedt insisted that the unique format would not affect the top-quality action from the world-class swimmers at the Singapore Swimming Association- sanctioned event whose ticketing details will be announced soon.
The former French national swimmer said: "Yes, we have to create suspense but, at the same time, swimming is a performance sport. We cannot have too much suspense and no performance."
Already, a formidable line-up of swimmers have confirmed their attendance.
They include world champions James Magnussen (100m free) from Australia and Hungary's Katinka Hosszu (200m and 400m individual medley) as well as Lithuania's Ruta Meilutyte, an Olympic gold medallist and world record-holder in the 50m and 100m breaststroke.
Australia's Christian Sprenger, who won the 100m breaststroke at last year's World Championships, also confirmed his participation.
The 28-year-old, who was here to launch the event yesterday at Marina Bay Sands' infinity pool, said: "When you come watch, you're seeing the best of the best.
"When I was invited to swim in this competition, I was very excited.
"You'll see the best swimmers in the world and that's why I want to be involved."
Sprenger also conducted a short swimming clinic for youth from SportCares Foundation and Sands for Singapore.
As hosts, Singapore can expect to reap the benefits, with organisers planning to have at least one top local swimmer in each race.
Swimming clinics will also be conducted at schools on Sept 6, where students can lap up a chance to team up with the stars for a relay swim-off.
The Singapore Swim Stars Open Water takes place on the final day in the East Coast and Singaporeans can sign up to compete in 800m and 4,000m events.
This article was published on May 21 in The Straits Times.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.