The Spanish double Olympian, Jose Manuel ‘Chema’ Martinez Fernandez, won the Gobi March 2014 today, arriving at the finish line by the spectacular shores of Xinjiang’s Sayram Lake.
“I was so tired at camp [this morning],” said the 42-year-old. “I was cold and exhausted, but now I feel great!” This is the first 4 Deserts win for the legendary long-distance athlete—he took on the Sahara Race (Jordan) earlier this year and earned second place, but effortlessly took the gold medal here in China sustaining his strong lead throughout the six-day race in 25:56:34.
Italy’s Sebastiano Arlotta Tarino won the silver medal with a time of 28:59:00. “This has been a very different experience for me as a sportsman and as an individual,” said the 25-year-old. “We were competing with each other, but we also support and motivate each other—I enjoyed this part the most.”
Nicholas Mead of the United Kingdom took third overall with a time of 30:08:42.
Isis Breiter of Mexico emerged as the champion of the women’s division, completing the course with a time of 37:02:06 and coming in 18th overall position. Having finished as the 6th woman in the Sahara Race (Jordan) earlier this year, she was also reveling in her first win.
“I feel good,” said the 31-year-old as she arrived at the finish line. “The best part was coming up the hill to Checkpoint 7 [on Stage 5] and seeing the beautiful Lake Sayram in the distance. It made the difficulty of climbing the hill worth it. I trained hard for this, a lot of mountain training at over 3,000 meters.”
Danish competitor Lene Larson earned the silver medal in the women’s division with a time of 40:14:42, and in third position was South Korea’s Yang Yujin in 42:54:56.
In the team division, the members of Team Esquel of China were celebrating their win. The three-man team includes Luo Pengwu, Zhou Zhijun and Chen Hui. “We pushed ourselves hard, to the limit,” said Chen Hui, a superintendent at the Esquel Group based in Foshan City. “It’s really good we finished together. We learned a lot. The race was challenging.”
The 11th edition of the Gobi March took place in Bortala, Xinjiang, one of the most culturally diverse regions of China’s far northwest, in the highlight plateaus of the Gobi Desert.
“We were happy to return to this amazing section of the Gobi for a second year running,” said Samantha Fanshawe, President of Events of the 4 Deserts Race Series. “It’s such a diverse region culturally, and competitors were able to stay in traditional yurts and witness up close the lives of the ethnic Mongol, Kazakh and Uyghur minorities. Competing against the backdrop of these snowcapped mountains and alpine forests, and finishing at Lake Sayram was very special.”
The weather was fair for much of the race apart from the third day, where the race was shortened and diverted due to hail and snow on the higher sections of the course (the lost kilometers were then added the following day). A total of 109 competitors from 41 countries engaged in the race—and 31 competitors have qualified for The Last Desert (Antarctica), which takes place this November.
Yoshiro Sato, a 34-year-old engineer from Japan, has joined the 4 Deserts Club—having now completed all 4 Deserts races. He says his next challenge is to start all over again and attempt it a second time. Many competitors are taking on the 4 Deserts Grand Slam—and are now halfway through their odyssey of 1,000 kilometers in one calendar year. Some have just signed on for the challenge, such as Huynh Linh of Canada, who was inspired to take on all of the 4 Deserts races after completing the Sahara Race earlier in the year. The next stop for the Grand Slam contenders is Chile for the Atacama Crossing on 5 October.