CEOL
Slovenian swimming down Danube river for peace

VIENNA, Jul 14, 2000 -- (Reuters) A Slovenian swimmer aiming to become the first person to swim the length of the Danube river struck out into chilly waters in Vienna on Thursday morning after completing the first third of his journey.

Martin Strel, 45, began his attempt to swim the entire 2,860 kilometer (1,780 mile) waterway at its source in Germany's Black Forest on June 25.

He expects to arrive at the Romanian Black Sea town of Tulcea on August 24.

"I am doing the swim for peace, friendship and clean rivers," said muscle-packed Strel as he lowered himself into the water close to central Vienna.

The Austrian capital, where Johann Strauss composed the world-famous "Blue Danube Waltz", is almost 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) from the river delta at the Black Sea.

Strel, an ambassador for the World Wide Fund For Nature, also intends to set a new world record for marathon river swimming, presently held by an American who swam the 2,910 kilometer (1,800 mile) Mississippi.

Strel will have to double back on the last leg of his swim in Romania to beat the record, finally leaving the water in the port of Constanta.

"I have to swim to Constanta because the Danube is too short for the world record," said Strel.

Protected from water temperatures of 10 to 16 degrees Celsius (50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit) by a rubber suit and wearing fins, Strel said he swims for 10 to 12 hours a day.

"That's about 50 to 60 kilometers (31 to 37 miles)... sometimes the water is faster and that helps," he said. His 18-year-old son Borut supports him from a canoe, carefully steering his father around boats and water-logged branches.

A professional guitarist, Strel abandoned his career in music to become a long-distance swimmer over twenty years ago.

He holds the world distance record for sea swimming - 162.5 kilometers (101 miles) - and was the first man to swim from Africa to Europe, a feat he achieved in 1997.

His Danube swim will take him closer to home. After leaving the Austrian stretch of the waterway on Thursday evening, Strel will pass through Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldavia and the Ukraine.

"I am swimming down the Danube because it joins ten countries and eight languages," Strel said.

Strel is keen on bringing his message of environmental awareness to the countries on the lower stretches of the Danube.

Industrial spills in Romania earlier this year caused heavy pollution in the Danube after wiping out wildlife in the Tisza subsidiary.

"Until Vienna the water was very clean, " said Strel. "I don't know how its going to get from now."

The marathon swimmer's equipment includes a snorkel, just in case.



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