Monday, September 14, 2009

Mongolia stages 'world's longest horse race'

By Michael Kohn (AFP)

ULAN BATOR — More than two dozen horsemen raced across the finish line in Mongolia this month after a test of endurance that would have impressed even legendary conqueror Genghis Khan.

The international group of riders pounded 860 kilometres (530 miles) across the Asian country's vast grasslands in the 10-day Mongol Derby, which organisers call the world's longest horse race.

South African architect Charles van Wyk, 28, tied for first with local rider Shiravsambuu Galbadrakh, leading home a field from 10 countries including Argentina, Australia, Britain, New Zealand, Spain and the United States.

The Adventurists, a Britain-based organisation that dreamed up the derby, designed the race as a way to promote Mongolian tradition and culture -- while raising money for charity.

Participants changed steeds every 40 kilometres or so at urtuus -- horse relay stations patterned on those used during Genghis Khan's time to deliver post across the Mongol Empire, from the Pacific Ocean to the edge of Europe.

"Modern life is changing the steppes but that does not mean they are all coming to the city," Van Wyk told AFP.

"In fact the quality of life is quite good on the steppes and even the foreign riders longed to go back after we returned to the city."

Nomads in traditional gers, or round felt tents, manned each station, providing riders with boiled mutton and fermented mare's milk, a common drink in Mongolia. But on some nights, they slept in the open.

"There were days when I wondered why I had even started this race because I was so tired. But then I would get back into the rhythm of things and press on," said Van Wyk.
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