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Competitors in the 2008 Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge in Al Ain.
Competitors in the 2008 Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge in Al Ain.

Endurance duo all set for their biggest challenge yet

The record holder pair for playing the longest football match is among the 50 teams who set off today in 426-kilometre event over some of the region's toughest terrain.

ABU DHABI // Jean Marc Laventure and Alex Pinchin are in The Guinness Book of World Records for playing the longest football match.

The pair, who are both based in the capital, featured in a game that lasted 42 hours and five minutes at the Aspire Academy stadium in Doha, Qatar, in May.

It took two months of preparation between two squads of 18 playing on a rotation of three hours on, one hour off, with the players eating and sleeping on the sidelines. The Crunchers v Challengers game ended with the score 293-236.

Now Laventure and Pinchin are in one the 50 teams that will embark on one of the most intense physical and mental tests when the fourth staging of the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge starts at the Corniche Beach this morning.

"We have been training solidly every weekend since July," said Laventure, a banker, who leads the Emirates based-Monaqasat Adcenture Team made up of Pinchin, Elliott Webb and Tanya Johnstone.

"We have spent a lot of time in training, which means sacrificing all our social life. We have done a few smaller events and this is the real big test. Participating in the longest ever football match was a good endurance test but the Adventure Challenge is more demanding, both physically and mentally."

The 426-kilometre event involves canoeing, running, swimming, and cycling over six days and has drawn more than 200 of the world's best endurance athletes.

Leading this year's charge will be New Zealand's Thule Adventure Team, which is led by three-time Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge winners, Richard Ussher, Elina Ussher, Marcel Hagener and Nathan Fa'avae. Ussher praised his team for the success they have had in the past three staging of the race. "To get a good team around me was one of the key factors of our success. We have had the same kind of training and hope to win it again," he said.

Fellow Kiwis, Team Orion Adventure, led by two-time Adventure Challenge runner-up Fleur Pawsey, are also back.

Abu Dhabi Triathlon Team, the endurance squad backed by ADTA, are also expected to make up from last year's early race retirement. They are led by Faris Al Sultan, the 2005 Ironman World Champion.

With its most competitive field to date, many veterans will be looking over their shoulders at the high- quality first timers looking to make their marks. Some notables among the record 30 rookie teams include Sheila Taormina, a four-time multi-discipline Olympian, of the Yankee Scribes team from USA, Christian Wiig Boen, a two-time European Military Biathlon champion of the Norwegian Team, and Nick Gracie, the 2009 Adventure Racing World Champion of the Adidas Terex Team from the UK.

Among the rookie squads, France and hosts UAE have six each, while Australia has three. China, Denmark, the United States, England and South Africa have two each, while Canada, Norway, Russia, Singapore, and Sweden are all represented by one new entry.

Out of record total of 50 teams, the UAE and France share the most entries with nine each, followed by Sweden with four. Australia, England, New Zealand, the United States and South Africa have three apiece, while China, Denmark and Russia have two teams each.

Canada, Switzerland, Germany, Norway, Poland, Singapore and Spain will each be represented by one team.

"This year's record-breaking full capacity line-up of 50 squads from 18 countries, including nine teams from the UAE, is testament to the growing popularity of the event, both locally and internationally," said Faisal al Sheikh, events manager of Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, at last night's traditional pre-race pasta dinner at the Park Rotana. "Significantly, the presence of 30 rookie teams brings further excitement to the competition as seasoned and novice squads test their skill and overall team strategy in a battle between experience and enthusiasm.

"And with two female-dominated squads from South Africa and Russia in the mix for the first time this year, a 'battle of the sexes' sub-plot just makes the race doubly interesting."

Following today's opening-day adventure triathlon in Abu Dhabi city, all 50 squads head to Al Ain as they ready for the five-day battle through Abu Dhabi's scenic yet physically demanding landscapes, which include the rolling desert expanse of The Empty Quarter, lush greenery of Al Ain and the dizzying heights of Jebel Hafeet.

The challenge ends at Abu Dhabi Corniche on Wednesday.

apassela@thenational.ae

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