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 Hong Kong competitor Ho Chung Wong. Ho Chung was 2nd in the Sahara Race (Namibia) 2018, 1rst in the Gobi March (Mongolia) 2018 and 1rst at the Atacama Crossing (Chile) 2018, giving him an overall ranking of 4 and making him the solid favorite to win.
Japanese competitor Takuya Wakaoka smashed the Atacama Crossing this year which has pushed him up to the second position after Ho Chung with an overall ranking of 9. 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.
Romania competitor Iulian Rotariu is just on the heels of Takuya with a solid ranking of 13. Iulian finished 4th at the Atacama Crossing 2016, 4th at the Gobi March 2016, and 4th at the Sahara Race (Namibia) 2017.
Fellow Romanian Andrei Gligor finished in 10th place in last year’s Sahara Race and 9th place at the Gobi March and the Atacama Crossing.
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 and in the top 10 at the Atacama Crossing give him an outside chance to be crowned 4 Deserts Champion.
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, 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 twelve years he will join the 4 Deserts Club when he crosses the final finish line of The Last Desert.