[29 February, 2012, Hong Kong] – The eighth edition of the Atacama Crossing kicks off this week in the Chilean desert town of San Pedro de Atacama, with one of the most ambitious groups of competitors to ever embark on the 250-kilometer footrace.
Of the 160 competitors setting out on the world-renowned race through the Atacama Desert, 13 are aiming to complete the 4 Deserts Grand Slam. This will see them competing in all of the 4 Deserts races in one calendar year, including the Atacama Crossing (Chile), the Gobi March (China), the Sahara Race (Egypt) and The Last Desert (Antarctica). This year’s Grand Slam contenders include French journalist Cecile Bertin, Turkish communications executive Alper Dalkilic, Argentinean lawyer Juan Ferrero, and brother and sister duo Tara and James Gaston of the United States.
The Atacama Crossing is considered by many to be the toughest race in the 4 Deserts series. It is equally known for its staggering beauty. The seven-day odyssey takes competitors through an otherworldly landscape of salt lakes, lava flows and sand dunes in settings that traverse the Valley of the Moon, the Valley of Death and Laguna Tebinquinche Rio Grande. The course moves along historical trade routes, through streams, dried up gorges and across the infamous salt flats. Competitors carry their own food and equipment for the week, with only water and shelter provided along the course. An average altitude of 2,500 meters and the notoriously challenging terrain brings added challenges.
The field of competitors embarking on this year’s race spans nearly 40 countries and a vast spectrum of ages, backgrounds and experience; 34% have embarked on RacingThePlanet events before, such as Guy Evans, who is in Chile to earn his way into the 4 Deserts Club with his final event in the series. Canadian dentist Ashkan Mokhtari is also back for more having previously completed nine RacingThePlanet events. The Prendiville Family of Perth, Australia,has four family members competing – together they have completed seven RacingThePlanet events.
The four teams taking part include Andes Gear from Chile, Friends for Life of Germany and the Japanese collective IMAMURA Family. The final team, JDRF Born to Run from Australia, stands out again for their sheer ambition. Team-members Jess Baker, Greg Donovan, Matthew Donovan, Roger Hanney and Ron Schwebel will be raising money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation as they attempt to complete the Grand Slam as a team. If they succeed, they will smash multiple Grand Slam records along the way, such as oldest and youngest team member, and first father and son duo. Remarkably, team-member Roger Hanney himself has Type 1 diabetes.
This is the eighth edition of the Chilean race and it has once again drawn interest from around the world. This year sees a significantly larger number of competitors from Luxembourg and Germany, while the most competitors hail from the United Kingdom (23), followed by the United States (21) and Australia (16). Chile is also enjoying home support, with nine residents embarking on the race.