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French Version

Desert Cup 2002: A host of adventures

It wasn't a huge shock for Jordanians to see Italian sprinter Marco Olmo standing on stage receiving 1st prize for the Desert Cup 2002.

It was his second consecutive time to take the gold. Olmo took first place in the 168-km race with 18 hours and 35 minutes, a new record for the race. Olmo also broke another record-he's the oldest winner at the age of 54. The three-day race-in its 4th year-is annually held in early November under the patronage of Her Majesty Queen Rania.

It is organized jointly by Jordan Telecom Co (JTC) and the French Atlantide International. This year's race witnessed a key change in the course, moving its starting point from Wadi Rum to the red-rose city of Petra. The beginning of the race in Petra revealed the rivalry and competition among the 231 participants from 19 countries. The competitors jogged through the ancient Nabatean trails towards the Rum valley.

The competitors endured three distant stages full of sand, undulation, and mountains. Each stage required much attention and physical exertion from the participants. Jean-Michelle Jolly from France came second after Olmo with 20 hours and 35 minutes. Jolly was third in last year's race. Also from France, Katelle Corne was the first woman ending the race at 30 hours and 35 minutes. She was followed by German Hanni Zehendner with 31 hours and 38 minutes. In the master's competition-a category of competitors over 40-the 43-year-old Alpert Valle from France took the master title, with Olmo coming in second.

This year's event was full of adventure, hard work, and some misfortunes. "The race is an endurance one," said Mohammed Al Sweidi, who was member of the Jordanian team that clinched second place in the team category. "Those who are old enough have the fitness and ability to reach the finals in good shape, unlike the young who still need much experience and hard work." The 32-year-old Al Sweidi resonated the bitterness and dismay felt among the Jordanian participants in the race. Almost all the competitors in the race agreed that last year's event was much better than this year's. Only 209 competitors made it to the final line, which is fine for such a durable contest. The other 22 participants withdrew from the race either for injuries, exhaustion or other health problems. Al Sweidi ran for the Jordanian team sponsored by JTC. He took ninth place in the individual category although he crossed the finish line at eighth place. Organizers of the Desert Cup relegated the Jordanian athlete because of assistance he received when he fell in a quicksand in Wadi Rum. According to the race regulations, those who ask for additional amounts of water and food, or any kind of help during the race will be fined by losing points in the race. Each competitor must acquire 2000 calories and a liter of water before the race. "It was a cold and dark night when my leg stepped suddenly in the sand. There were no signs. The last sign I saw was far from my way," Al Sweidi told The Star. He explained there were not enough phosphorus signs distributed along the race during the nightly chapters. Lama Hattab was also a member of the Jordanian team. She was dismayed with the lack of accurate calculation of the race. The Jordanian team was relegated to the fourth place despite that its results were as high as the second. "The Jordanian team was doing well during the race. The whole calculation was totally wrong," Hattab, a university student, told The Star. She was stunned when the judges ranked the Jordanian team at fourth with 34 hours, about four hours more than the real time calculation. Hattab submitted her complaint to the race organizers, who later re-composed the overall ranking and ranked the Jordanian team at the second place behind the French.

Patrick Bauer, the race's main director, agreed that this year's race was interesting, a bit difficult with many challenges, especially financial. "The organizers are paying much money for holding the race every year, but they earn nothing in return," Bauer pointed out. Every competitor must pay JD 1100 in registration fees to take part in the race. This totaled to about JD 255,000 for this year's race. However, Bauer told The Star that the race's expenditures are much higher, estimated at more than 500,000 euros. Al Sweidi has doubts about joining the race next year. "I have participated in many races in Europe and the region. But this race still needs more organization and better mandate to make it triumphant," he said.

Besides the JTC, this year's race was co-sponsored by Jordan Tourism Board, Royal Jordanian, EuroSport, the Aqaba Special Economic Zone, MobileCom and Pan-East Tours.

Ghassan Joha
The Star

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