Ones To Watch

The 14th edition of the Atacama Crossing (Chile) is set to begin on 30 September 2018 when competitors from 36 countries compete in a six-stage, 250-km ultramarathon in a desert that is recognized as the driest place on Earth.

The week-long race will feature a number of competitors looking to win the Atacama Crossing. One of the favourites for this year’s race is Hong Kong ultrarunner Wong Ho Chung. Wong is one of 16 competitors attempting the 4 Deserts Grand Slam -- completing the Namib Race, the Gobi March, the Atacama Crossing and Antarctica’s Last Dessert all in one calendar year -- and his results in Namibia and in the inaugural Mongolian edition of the Gobi March make him one of the runners to beat in Chile. Wong finished second at the Namib Race and won the Gobi March this past August, putting him in strong contention to be crowned the 4 Deserts Champion this year.

Also vying for a win at the Atacama Crossing is fellow Grand Slam contender Takuya Wakaoka of Japan who finished third at the Gobi March, as well as France’s Christophe Santini who finished seventh at the same race. Romanian Andrei Gligor is also expected to be amongst the leaders when they cross the final finish line in San Pedro Square on 6 October. Although he began running just five years ago, Gligor is hoping to make an impression on his 4 Deserts Series debut.

Grand Slam contenders Michal Gawron of Poland, 13th at the Gobi March, and Belgian Bart Van Schilt, 17th at the Gobi March, are both looking to find success in Chile as is Swiss competitor Maik Becker who is competing in his third RacingThePlanet ultramarathon following his 18th place finish in Mongolia in August. This race is part of Maik’s seven-month, seven-continent, seven multi-day race challenge which will encompass more than 1,700km. Briton Thomas Harvey is another adventurer who has rowed across the Atlantic Ocean, swum across the English Channel, and cycled across the United States, Brazil and Costa Rica.

Approximately 30% of the competitors are women and the ladies race is expected to be as competitive as ever. Jacqui Bell is another competitor attempting the 4 Deserts Grand Slam and the 23-year old Australian is looking to become the youngest female to accomplish this feat. Another favourite in the ladies competition is Hong Kong-based competitor Lara Reynolds. Reynolds was previously the fourth-fastest woman at RacingThePlanet: Sri Lanka 2016 and finished in the top 10 at last year’s RacingThePlanet Ultramarathon in Patagonia.

Dr. Szilvia Lubics from Hungary comes to the Atacama Crossing with an incredible running CV. She has seven Spartathlon finishes to her name including two 1st places and two 3rd places and currently holds the record for the fastest finish for the women. Most recently Lubics completed the Keys 100 as the 1st lady and 2nd overall (right behind the 2017 Champion of the Atacama Crossing – Zandy Mangold). In 2017 she also completed Badwater where she was the 4th lady and has many other impressive finishes including a 3 hour 8 minute marathon time.  However the Atacama Crossing is her first time to enter a stage race.

Triple Guinness World Record holder Fiona Oakes is another runner to watch. In 2013, Oakes became the fastest woman to run a marathon on every continent and the North Pole, and then re-broke two of her own records a year later in 2014. She previously raced the Namib Race in 2016, and has completed the Marathon des Sables three times. When she is not running ultramarathons, Oakes is a firefighter, a commonality she shares with Wong, who works as a physical fitness instructor for Hong Kong’s Fire Services Department.

Among the sixteen Grand Slam competitors in the third leg of the four-race challenge are  film producer Leon Clarance from the UK, South Koreans Cheongshin Heogwak, Yoo Dong Hyeon and Choi Hong Seok, William Chew of Malaysia, Hichame Moubarak of France and Qatar, Poland’s Marek Rybiec, American Scott Baldridge, Israel’s Shmuel (Sam) Itah and Tommy Jacobsen of Denmark.

RacingThePlanet and the 4 Deserts Ultramarathon Series are well known for their diversity -- competitors hail from around the world and are of all ages and backgrounds. The youngest competitor at the Atacama Crossing is 21 year old Yoo Dong Hyeon from South Korea, while Frenchman Yves Garrigue is the oldest competitor at age 66. This year’s race also includes Sydney-based personal trainer and Instagram influencer Ben Seymour who will be making a film about his race.

Adding a further challenge to their race are the four teams entering the team competition at the Atacama Crossing: Chinese competitors Lily Li Li, Wang Erguo and Wang Weiquan are joining forces as team CKGSB; Oscar Wong Chi Keong and Gone Wong Chi Wang of Macau form the team AAJJMC; Hideki Fujikawa, Shinya Nakao and Takuma Haga are competing in a Japanese team HidekHideki; and  the three Grand Slam contenders Choi HongSeok, Heogwak Cheongshin (Zealot) and Yoo Dong Hyeon are simply team Grandslammers.

This year’s Atacama Crossing is also notable for the many families who are competing together. Simone Bishop of South Africa is racing with her daughter Kimberley, while American Greg Nance competes with his father Michael. Husband and wife team David and Carla Jacko will race together having both volunteered at the Atacama Crossing in 2017. Lara Reynolds’ husband Andrew is also competing at the Atacama Crossing 2018, while Ana Saravia brings her brother Cristian to the desert for the first time.

The Atacama Crossing is one of the most popular races in the 4 Desert Ultramarathon Series -- so much so that Ashkan Mokhtari has earned the nickname “Ashacama” for having competed in every Atacama Crossing since 2009. The iconic scenery that consists of huge sand dunes, the Slot Canyons, ancient Inca roads and much more keeps pulling Mokhtari back and in this year’s edition he celebrates his 10th Atacama Crossing and his 24th RacingThePlanet / 4 Deserts Ultramarathon!

Stage 1 of the Atacama Crossing (Chile) 2018 begins on Sunday, 30 September. Race updates, breaking news, images and videos can be found at www.4deserts.com/atacamacrossing/live.