The 2020 Grand Slam and Grand Slam Plus Hopefuls
The 4 Deserts Grand Slam began in 2008 when Dean Karnazes of the United States, the famed "Ultramarathon Man", set out to complete all 4 Deserts Ultramarathons (4 x 250km ultras) in one calendar year. Dean successfully completed the races and since that time, 78 individuals from around the world have completed the 4 Deserts Grand Slam and joined the 4 Deserts Club.
The Grand Slam Plus is a challenge that only eight people in the world have ever completed. It involves completing the 4 Deserts Grand Slam as well as the RacingThePlanet Ultramarathon, also in one calendar year. The RacingThePlanet Ultramarathon moves to a new location each year and in 2020 it takes place in Georgia, The Caucasus.
It takes a huge amount of time a dedication to attempt this challenge and in 2020 there are currently 11 competitors confirmed, with more still making the final decision. There are some familiar faces amongst the competitors this year that run alongside RacingThePlanet newbies. Here's the lowdown on the competitors jostling for a place in the hall of fame!
Anim Swart (Canada) is an endurance coach (focused on triathlons) at Life Time Fitness who loves her job. She grew up in South Africa, spent much time in Canada, and currently lives in New York in the United States. Her mother and father were the best role models, teaching her to be tough as nails and to persevere no matter what. Her father completed Comrades at the age of 50, which inspired her to run more and run long. Anim’s impressive race results include many ultramarathons and the IronMan world championships in Kona. She is the mother of two amazing kids, Daniella and David, who always tell her she is a little crazy. Anim comes to the 4 Deserts Grand Slam Plus with a good deal of experience having already completed the Namib Race, the Gobi March and the Atacama Crossing, all in 2019. Her top place finish being 4th in the Gobi March.
Shmulik Itah (Israel), known to his friends as Sam, is a businessman from Israel. In 2018, he completed the Namib Race and the Gobi March while attempting to complete the Grand Slam. Unfortunately, he had to withdraw due to ankle injury during the third race in the series, the Atacama Crossing. Sam is now returning in 2020 to attempt to complete the Grand Slam – and is adding on the “Plus”. Sam has been running since school and is a marathon regular, stepping up to the longer distances with RacingThePlanet: Patagonia 2017. As part of his training, it is not uncommon for Sam to do a night run from 10pm to 5am.
Alex Flynn (United Kingdom). Alex was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2008 at the age of 36. Despite the initial setback, his diagnosis became the catalyst in his life for showing people the possibility of creating positive change in the face of adversity. In 2020, he has taken on the challenge to complete the Grand Slam Plus. This is incredible as even to complete one RacingThePlanet / 4 Deserts Ultra with Parkinson's is a huge challenge. However, endurance challenges are not new to Alex and one 250km ultramarathon is not enough for him. He has completed marathons, ultra endurance races and triathlons. He has completed an impressive list of challenges whilst raising awareness and money for his charities. His enthusiasm and inspiration to others has gained him recognition as an adventure seeker in the UK and around the world.
Beth Whitman (United States). Beth is from Seattle in the United States and works as an adventure tour operator. She has been an adventurer and traveller for the majority of her life but only began running in her mid-40s after telling herself all her life she wasn't a runner. She ran her first marathon aged 50, ran five marathons that year, and then followed it with a Quadzilla. In 2019, she ran the Epic 5 in Hawaii and this year she has chosen her hardest challenge to date as she takes on the 4 Deserts Grand Slam. She will decide after the first race in the series if she will extend this to add on RacingThePlanet: Georgia and make it the “Plus”.
Nyikolaj Roskovics (Hungary). Nyikolaj is from Pest in Hungary and is returning for his third RacingThePlanet ultra when he starts his 4 Deserts Grand Slam Plus campaign in Namibia. He is no slouch out on the course and is likely to be challenging for a podium finish. He has previously placed 3rd at the Gobi March (Mongolia) 2019 and 5th at the Namib Race 2018. He will be joined in Namibia by his wife Marianna, this time on the volunteer team but a runner in her own right, running alongside or crewing for Nyikolaj.
John Bezou (United States). Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) John Bezou is the Director of Student Activities at Saint Stanislaus College in Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi. In June 2018, he retired from federal service after serving 20 years on active duty in the United States Army. He served two combat tours in Iraq and has supported overseas contingency operations around the globe. He was awarded and decorated for his service. John is an avid runner who has competed in every distance from 5K to 100 miles with a total of eight ultramarathons so far. Most recently, he completed the Salt Flats 100 mile endurance race and the Desert RATS 150 mile stage race. This is his first race in the 4 Deserts Ultramarathon Series as he takes on the challenge of the Grand Slam 2020.
Michael Williams (United States). Michael is a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Animal Emergency Clinic of South Florida in Miami, United States. Married with three small children, he still finds time for running having completed ultras around the US as well as four races in the RacingThePlanet / 4 Deserts Ultramarathon Series: the Sahara Race (Namibia) 2016, the Gobi March (China) 2015, RacingThePlanet: Patagonia 2017 and the Atacama Crossing (Chile) 2019. Michael is back for a big year in 2020 when he is set to join the eight other people in the world in the 4 Deserts Grand Slam Plus club. Mike states he likes to hang out with 4 Deserts people which is great news as he will be spending a lot of time with them this year!
Rena Mutaguchi (Japan). Tokyo based Rena works at a financial IT company as a support engineer. She loves travelling and running. After taking part in the Marathon Des Sables in 2013, she was hooked on stage races. The Namib Race 2020 will be her first race in her quest to become only the 3rd female to complete the Grand Slam Plus. In 2020 she's not only is she attempting the Grand Slam Plus, but she's back for the 8th time at the Marathon Des Sables and is taking part in her first Jungle Marathon in Peru. Rena is excited to meet new wonderful people and run in the beautiful scenery on her journey.
Ahmed Al Katheeri (United Arab Emirates). Ahmed is the first competitor from the United Arab Emirates to take on the Grand Slam or Grand Slam Plus. He takes on the challenge with a solid background in long-distance ultramarathons. He ran three qualifying races for UTMB, completed the Marathon Des Sables in 2019, and finished the 270km desert ultramarathon in Dubai in 2018.He is a 42-year-old police officer, and the father of his 9-year-old son, Ali, who he calls his hero after doing the impossible and surviving serious health issues at birth.
Alexis Svokos (United States). Alexis has not raced with RacingThePlanet prior to taking on the 4 Deserts Grand Slam Plus in 2020. She tells us she can't wait for the adventure ahead and to meet everyone! She is a medical doctor (OB/GYN) and loves spending her free time travelling the world and chasing adventures. She will be racing alongside her sister, Konstantina, who will be joining her for the Namib Race, and hopefully some other races as well!
Terumichi Morishita (Japan). Terumichi is an engineer working in the city of Toyota in Japan. He comes with an impressive record of ultramarathon results having won the Okinawa Survival Race, for which he holds the course record, four times. He has an impressive finishing time for a 100k of 8:46:33, in a 24-hour race he completed 231km, and in 2018 he finished 69th in UTMF in 29:12:34. He will likely be pushing for a podium finish whilst taking on the challenge to complete the 2020 Grand Slam.