With the Greek flag in one hand and ice smothered across his face, runner Argyrios Papathanasopoulos fell to his knees in exhaustion – and celebration – after winning the North Pole Marathon, the northernmost race on Earth.
Papathanasopoulos overcame 46 opponents and temperatures of minus 33 Celsius (27.4 Fahrenheit) to win the “world’s coolest marathon” held annually at Camp Barneo, known as North Pole Camp, on Sunday.
“Almost unbelievable. You know I‘m a Greek guy so this is not the right place for me; it’s like an Eskimo running a race in the desert,” he said after winning in a time of four hours, 34 minutes and 36 seconds.
However, as he confessed, there was not really any strong competition from his opponents. “I was fortunate not to have the pressure of competition, and that gave me the opportunity to cope better with cold problems. If I had a problem fighting hard for the first place, then there would be a problem. I had someone who pushed me in the first 10 kilometres, but then disappeared.”
“After running for another five kilometres I noticed that there was no-one else near me and that is when I began to enjoy, in a way, the struggle and the beautiful inner thoughts came to the surface; the dream coming true, the possible victory and other positive things. All of this, the positive thought lasted for an hour before the finish because after that the course became technically impossible to run. Imagine 60 people having trodden on the snow so many times, the path was like a ploughed field that you could not run properly. It had pots, steps and other abnormalities that really hindered you.”
In the women’s event, Guoping Xie of China was victorious in a field of 13.
Nearly all the competitors were wrapped from head to toe in warm clothing to protect them from the icy elements in the picturesque setting, amongst the frozen waters of the Arctic sea.