When The Last Desert (Antarctica) 2018 begins in November thirty-two competitors will be looking, not only to finish the race, but to join the 4 Deserts Club. Some of those will be trying to earn the title of “4 Deserts Champion”. With past champions including the likes of Kevin Lin, Dean Karnazes and Ryan Sandes, the 4 Deserts Champion award measures the accomplishments of a competitor across all four races in the 4 Deserts Ultramarathon Series -- the Namib Race (formerly the Sahara Race), the Gobi March, the Atacama Crossing and The Last Desert in Antarctica.
The 4 Deserts Champion is determined by adding the ranking of each of the four races. The competitor with the lowest cumulative rank is crowned that year’s 4 Deserts Champion. As The Last Desert only takes place every other year, a 4 Deserts Champion (one male and one female) is only awarded every two years.
This year, our potential 4 Deserts Champions are representing a few different countries including Hong Kong, Romania, Poland, Japan, the Netherlands, Canada, Belgium and Australia! This exciting and international group of people take their first steps towards winning the championship by joining The Last Desert which is shaping up to be a an exceptional competition on the Antarctic Peninsula.
Currently leading the championship points table is Romanian competitor Iulian Rotariu. Rotariu was 4th in the Gobi March 2016, 6th in the Atacama Crossing 2016 and 4th in the Sahara Race 2017, giving him an overall ranking of 14 and making him firm favourite before we see the Atacama Crossing results.
However, Wong Ho Chung from Hong Kong has so far placed 2nd in the Namib Race, 1st in the Gobi March and he goes into the Atacama Crossing 2018 as the favourite to win. If Wong finishes on the podium he will start The Last Desert with a ranking of 6 or less for the 4 Deserts Championship 2018. He was set to join The Last Desert to complete his 4 Deserts Grand Slam, however recent news has put doubts on whether he will be on the starting line in Antarctica. We await confirmation.
Japanese competitor Takuya Wakaoka has posted impressive results this year - he needs to finish 7th in Chile in order to equal Rotariu’s ranking going into The Last Desert. He has previously completed the Atacama Crossing in 2015, finishing 27th but for those who have completed the same race more than once, the lower ranking applies. This year he has raced the Namib Race and the Gobi March, finishing 4th and 3rd, respectively. Wakaoka is certainly one of the favourites for Antarctica and is in contention to be crowned this year’s 4 Deserts Champion.
Two other competitors are not far behind them in the points table and will be looking to impress in Chile as they complete the third race in the Series. Fellow Romanian Andrei Gligor finished just outside the top 10, in 11th place, in last year’s Sahara Race and Gobi March. This year, Gligor is doing the Atacama Crossing before he completes the 4 Deserts Ultramarathon Series in Antarctica.
Another frontrunner is Poland’s Michal Gawron, one of his year’s 4 Deserts Grand Slam contenders. While every competitor who completes all 4 Deserts Ultramarathons joins the 4 Deserts Club, competitors who complete all four 250km ultramarathons within a single calendar year are recognized as having completed the prestigious 4 Deserts Grand Slam. Gawron has finished 10th at the Namib Race (Namibia) and 13th at the Gobi March (Mongolia) so far this year.
Gligor and Gawron go into the Atacama Crossing with a cumulative ranking of 22 and 23, respectively.
Like Gawron, Dutch competitor Bart Van Schilt is also attempting the 4 Deserts Grand Slam and his two Top 20 finishes in the Namib Race and the Gobi March this year give him an outside chance to be crowned 4 Deserts Champion.
*Yellow indicates the Atacama Crossing ranking is still to be added after the 2018 edition of the race (which starts on the 28 September).
While there are 26 male competitors who are expected to join the 4 Deserts Club once they complete The Last Desert, just six female competitors will become part of the 4 Deserts Club. The race, however, to be crowned the women’s 4 Deserts Champion is as tough as ever.
Canadian Isabelle Sauve made her RacingThePlanet / 4 Deserts Ultramarathon debut at the Atacama Crossing (Chile) 2016 where she finished as the third-fastest female competitor. Earlier this year, Sauve raced both the Namib Race and the Gobi March where she finished 1st and 2nd, respectively. While Sauve is not racing in Chile this month, her incredible results over three of the 4 Deserts Ultramarathons give her the advantage heading into The Last Desert. A finish in Antarctica gives her a good chance at the 4 Deserts Champion title.
Second in the female points standing is Belgium’s Ann Verhaeghe. Verhaeghe finished an impressive 5th in the women’s competition in each of the 4 Deserts Ultramarathons she has completed and she is expected to be a contender for the women’s race again in Antarctica.
Australian Jacqueline Bell, at the age of 23, is aiming to be the youngest female ever to complete the 4 Deserts Grand Slam. Bell raced with Sauve at this year’s Namib Race and Gobi March where she finished 6th and 9th, respectively. Bell is now gearing up for the third of four races this year where she is again hoping to score a strong finish in the ladies’ competition. Notably in the women’s category, the Top 3 contenders are 42, 53 and 23 years of age proving that age is nothing more than a number when it comes to competing in ultramarathons.
While there are competitors like Bell, Wakaoka, Wong, Gawron and Van Schilt who are looking to join the 4 Deserts Club in one calendar year via the Grand Slam, there is no time limit to join the 4 Deserts Club or in the race to be named 4 Deserts Champion. Jerrad Choi from Korea made his RacingThePlanet / 4 Deserts debut at the Atacama Crossing 2006 and after thirteen years he will join the 4 Deserts Club when he crosses the final finish line of The Last Desert.
The countdown to who will be named 4 Deserts Champion 2018 is well underway. We look forward to the following the contenders through the Atacama Crossing (Chile) which starts on 28 September. The overall rankings will be updated on completion of this race.