Norwegians beat Brits to South Pole in historic rerun

Thu Jan 22, 2009 1:43pm EST
 
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By John Acher

OSLO (Reuters) - A two-man team from Norway have beaten British rivals in a ski race to the South Pole, nearly a century after Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen outpaced Britain's Robert Scott to reach it, organizers said on Thursday.

The grueling contest that began on January 4 with six teams was billed as the first race to the South Pole since Amundsen conquered it in December 1911 a month before Scott who perished trying to return. Norwegians Rune Malterud and Stian Aker covered the 770-kilometres (478.5 miles) route across the Antarctic icecap in 17 days and 11 hours to reach the Pole a day before three Brits, the organizers said.

"Watching the team cross was a historic and momentous occasion, they linked arms held high in the air as they walked to the Pole and planted a Norwegian flag," they said in a statement on the race web site.

A British team consisting of television presenter Ben Fogle, Olympic rowing gold medalist James Cracknell and physician Ed Coats, arrived at the Pole on Thursday afternoon, roughly 20 and a half hours after the Norwegians, a spokeswoman said.

Three other teams were still vying for third place, and the first of them was likely to reach the destination at 90 degrees South in about 24 hours, race spokeswoman Liz Ampairee said.

A sixth team, which fell behind the cutoff time and has been helped ahead by support crews no longer qualifies, but has continued skiing, she said.

The competitors have camped out in tents and pulled 70 kg (154 pounds) sledges behind them. Dogs were not allowed.

The route did not replicate those taken by Scott and Amundsen, but the racers faced the same timeless dangers of frostbite, temperatures of minus 50 centigrade and a hundreds of miles of icy crevasses.

Amundsen's five-man team arrived at the Pole on December 14, 1911 and left behind a tent and a letter to mark their achievement. Scott's misfortunate group came 35 days later and died in March 1912 of cold, exhaustion and hunger.

(Editing by Matthew Jones)