Peat bog yields a champion snorkeller: Women maintain their dominance of a race through weed-clogged water with zero visibility. Keith Elliott reports

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The Independent Online
ABILITY at underwater hockey would appear to be helpful in the arcane sport of bog snorkelling.

The top times in yesterday's world championships were all recorded by underwater hockey players. The winner, Sian Evans, of Cheltenham, is in the British team. This is the fourth time an underwater hockey player has taken the title. Ms Evans, 28, who has won the event twice before, swam two lengths of Rhydd Bog, Powys, in two minutes 12 seconds - a second outside the record.

'Actually, bog snorkelling is nothing like underwater hockey,' she said after clambering out of the cold, peat-stained channel. 'You can't even see your hand in front of your mask because the water's pitch black. It's just a matter of swimming as hard as you can.'

The bog, still used by people from nearby Llanwrtyd Wells for cutting peat, is far from straight, only about five feet wide and lined with water plants. Because competitors, wearing flippers, snorkels and face masks, are not allowed to look up, many zig-zag wildly from bank to bank and stagger out at the finish festooned with weed. 'The secret is to keep your arms out in front of you to feel your way,' Ms Evans said.

Once, Llanwrtyd Wells had little to attract tourists besides its claim to be the smallest town in Britain. Life there was soporific until Gordon Green invented bog snorkelling eight years ago to raise money for a community centre. 'Bog snorkelling has put us on the map,' he said. 'We even had a Spaniard taking part this year.' Mr Green omitted to mention that the Spaniard worked in his hotel.

You can see several inches into the bog before the event starts. In the peaty water lurk leeches, newts and frogs. But once the first competitor has splashed through, silt from the bottom has released an appalling smell and stirred the water into a mud soup. The pond life has fled. Some reckon the presence of wildlife improves their time. 'Thinking of the leeches made me swim faster,' Bruce Gardner said.

Becky Davies, 20, a care assistant, has taken part for the past five years. 'I think every year, why am I doing this?' she said. She won the prize for the best time by a local.

Ms Evans said the contest was a welcome change from life as a sales rep for a vaccines company, experience that may come in useful if she has swallowed any of the water. Her victory is the fourth in a row by a woman. 'I think perhaps they have more buoyancy,' Mr Green said. 'But then, I'm a non-swimmer. You wouldn't catch me in that water.'

(Photograph omitted)