Former world champion and two-time Australian Olympian Melissa Gorman has added a new dimension to the ocean swim series at Akaroa tomorrow.
Gorman, 27, is the defending series champion, and is back to chase the $20,000 cash prize for this year's series.
Gorman's best career achievement is winning the world championship 5km title in 2009. She finished 11th in the 10km open water swim at last year's London Olympics and 15th at the 2008 Beijing Games. She is also a two-time Commonwealth Games medallist in the 800m freestyle.
"Up until now, the women's series has been a head to head battle between New Zealand's best, Charlotte Webby and Cara Baker," event director Scott Rice said.
To be eligible for the $20,000, each swimmer must compete in a minimum of three of the six races. Each race winner is awarded 100 points, with double points on offer in the final round, the King of the Bays in April. Just the top three performances from each swimmer count in the standings.
For the women's series leader, New Plymouth's Webby, tomorrow's State Le Grande swim is going to come down to attitude.
"Melissa's an awesome swimmer so this race is going to be a huge challenge for me. I just have to go out hard from the start and swim my own race," she said.
Last year's race winner, Ashburton's Grace Sommerville, is also in the field. She recently beat Webby at the 10km open water national championships at Taupo.
The men's race is also going to be intriguing, with two other Australians featuring in this year's series for the first time.
Brisbane's Michael Sheil, 25, is back for another tilt. He competed in two of last season's races, finishing, second at the King of the Bays and third in the Sand to Surf in Mt Maunganui.
And talented teenager Josh Richardson, 19, will also compete. He's already tasted success in New Zealand, winning the 2011 5km and 10km titles at the national championships.
He freely admits he's been lured by the prospect of winning $20,000.
"I'll be doing the last three rounds of the series, and I'm really looking forward to it,' Richardson said.
"While I only came seventh in the 5km race at the recent Australian champs, only three seconds covered the top 11 swimmers. I'm fit, training well and confident," he said.
It won't be easy for either of the Australians, however, with New Zealand No 1 Kane Radford, of Rotorua, in fine form after easily winning the last round in Wellington to sit second on the standings behind Auckland's Phillip Ryan.
The State Le Grande swim is a 2.8km journey starting at French Bay Beach and ending at Children's Bay Beach.
Standings after three rounds:-
Men: Phillip Ryan (Auckland) 291.67 points 1, Kane Radford (Rotorua) 198.28 2, Codie Grimsey (Queensland) 197.89 3, Casey Glover (Wellington) 190.24 4.
Women: Charlotte Webby (Taranaki) 299.57 1, Cara Baker (Auckland) 198.28 2, Kirsty Wannan (Auckland) 192.74 3, Courtney Carson (Hutt Valley) 190.19 4.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Are you going to Cup Day today?Related story: Chanelle set for 'crazy week'