PORT ELIZABETH, SOUTH AFRICA - APRIL 10, swimmers during the Ironman South Africa competition at Hobie Beach on April 10, 2011 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Photo by Richard Huggard / Gallo Images

East London -

Two male athletes died on Sunday during the swimming leg of the Ironman endurance race in East London.

The men, aged 29 and 37, died of heart attacks during the first leg of the event.

“The swimmers took to the waters from Orient Beach at 7.30am. When they were 1 000 metres into the sea, they experienced difficulty and were rescued by the rescue team,” said police spokesman John Fobian.

Chief doctor Izak Maree confirmed that the two men suffered cardiac respiratory arrest and that the water safety team attempted to resuscitate them on the scene before they were sent to St Dominic’s Hospital where they were pronounced dead.

“The information they (athletes) supplied to us stated that both athletes had no history of heart problems,” said Michael Flanagan, World Endurance Africa media liaison. He added that they had no information as to what caused the heart attacks.

“This is very sad news, we are all about the safety of our athletes and this is the first time that something of this nature has happened,” Flanagan said.

The endurance race consists of a 1.9km swim followed by a 90km road cycle and a half-marathon.

“We will be holding a minute’s silence at the awards ceremony in respect for the individuals and their families,” said World Endurance Africa managing director Keith Bowler.

Title sponsor of the event, Spec-Savers’ CEO Bryan Dowley, said

, “Our sincere condolences are extended to their immediate family and friends of both athletes and as a sign of respect we have dropped our Spec-Savers branding flags on the pier to half mast and removed our flags at the finish line.”

The mayor of Buffalo City mayor Zukiswa Ncitha said at their next meeting they would also hold a minute’s silence.

The organisers said that they would not release the names of the athletes out of respect for the family.

Police had opened an inquest docket. – Additional reporting by Sapa

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Update: 1pm, 21 January 2013
Article updated to correct the distance run to a half-marathon and not a marathon.