Greeks in pursuit of recognition in high adventure league

They cycle through jungles and over sand dunes and rugged mountains, and run through canyons and across deserts and ice fields with no support teams and with one eye on the stopwatch. Others travel to the furthest corners of the Earth testing the limits of their endurance. For the first time this year, Greek «adventure athletes» took part in competitions such as the Marathon of the Sands in the Sahara and a 50,000-kilometer cycle race around the world. Thanks to private initiatives, Greece is seeking a place among nations hosting these competitions, not at state-of-the-art venues but in extreme environments. «This is a new trend based on people’s need to seek new goals through personal adventure,» said Lazaros Rigos, organizer of the Olympus Marathon. The premiere of this year’s competition began last Sunday on the island of Thasos with the mountain bike race Thasos Cup, in which 140 athletes from Greece, Bulgaria, Italy and Germany rode 53 exhausting kilometers to the peak of 1,204-meter-high Mount Ypsari. According to race organizer Yiannis Reizis, Greece’s best are competing. Then on May 6 and 7, the World Mountain Bike Marathon Cup is to be held in the foothills of Mt Vermio, 3 kilometers outside the town of Naoussa, in northern Greece. A world-class event under the auspices of the International Cycling Federation, its results go toward deciding the winner of the World Cup. Over 400 competitors from around 17 countries are expected to race. These figures are unprecedented in Greece, but still small compared to the 2,000 athletes who will participate in a similar race in Italy and the 14,000 who took part in Norway for the World Championship. «Greece is still in the early stages of mountain bike racing. Until now we have not had the technical means to hold such large-scale races. This is the most important cycle race to be held in the country since the Olympic Games,» said Thomas Mittas, organizer of the World Mountain Bike Marathon Cup. Meanwhile, the number of competitors in the third Olympus Marathon, to begin on June 25, is expected to be double that of last year. Around 300 runners are expected to compete. It is one of the most difficult races of its kind, over 43 kilometers, of which 36 are on narrow, rugged paths at heights of 2,780 meters. According to Rigos, the participants don’t need to be champions but must have some experience of marathons. Mountain marathons on the island of Alonnissos and in Nemea are to follow. Anyone for the North Pole? Icecaps at the North Pole, the peaks of the Himalayas and Alps, the volcanoes of Indonesia, and the jungles of Central and South America are the venues of a number of famous races that attract athletes from around the world. This year, for the first time in its 20-year history, the Marathon of the Sands, in the Sahara Desert, was won by a Greek athlete, 34-year-old orthopedic surgeon Argyris Papathanassiou, who finished the 230-kilometer course in seven days under extremely difficult conditions. «The race stretched my pain threshold to the limits,» wrote Papathanassiou on a website. Meanwhile, in June, 30-year-old psychologist Vassilis Mesitidis, is expected to complete a circuit of the globe after cycling 50,000 kilometers. Other international races of this kind include the Climbathon in Indonesia, up the side of the Kinabalu volcano to a height of 4,095 meters. Since 1986, over 4,000 people have been gathering every July in Davos, Switzerland, for the Swiss Alpine Marathon, divided into courses of 78 and 42 kilometers, far shorter than the 158 kilometers covered by about 2,000 athletes competing in the annual Ultra Trail Tour du Mont Blanc around Europe’s highest peak.