Swimmers cross Orinoco River in test of endurance

SAN FELIX, Venezuela (AP) — Hundreds of competitors swam across the turbulent Orinoco River on Sunday in a grueling test of endurance that is an annual tradition in Venezuela.

A total of 805 men and women participated in the 1.9-mile (3.1-kilometer) contest, and 520 of them reached the finish after fighting the current of one of the world's largest rivers. Others were pushed too far downstream and had to be picked up by boats.

The race is held each year on the Orinoco just downstream from its confluence with the Caroni River.

The athletes first swam across the muddy waters of the Orinoco, which was swelled by recent rains, before crossing the darker coffee-colored waters of the Caroni.

Swimmers say the swiftly moving waters make the event difficult.

"Just getting across is a challenge," said Rene Alvarez, a 41-year-old marine biologist who made the swim for the fifth time and finished second in his age class.

"I like it because it's an event that's never the same. ... This year the Orinoco was very, very strong and the Caroni was very gentle," Alvarez said. "Since it depends a lot on the current, there's a lot of strategy involved."

Eds: UPDATES with figures on swimmers who finished and didn't; CORRECTS that about 900 were signed up but 805 participated; IMPROVES translation of quote in last graf.