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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Polympics

We did two new firsts last Sunday at the South Pole: the first ever Polympics, and the first ever outdoor triathlon.  We had a total of 35 participants in 5 disciplines which tested endurance, speed, balance, strength, and agility.  The idea of a triathlon came on Dec 14, after six of us went out to test the bicycle and found out that it was possible to ride on the ice.  When we started discussing the possibility of having a triathlon, Elissa, our volunteer events coordinator suggested that we make it part of the upcoming Polympics.  I thought the Polympics were an established South Pole tradition, and I volunteered to organize the triathlon event as part of it.  It wasn't until a couple of weeks ago that I found out that the Polympics was just a name and an idea and that no, they had never been done before.  With so many activities going on (ice sculpture contest, film festival contest, marathon, etc.) everyone was stretched thin and starting to get tired, and it looked like even this year the Polympics would remain on the drawing board.  But I really wanted to have a South Pole triathlon, so we put together a small team of coordinators and gave it a try.  We solicited ideas from the entire station and came up with a list of 10 events (see the full list here ).  We put sign up sheets in the dining room, requesting a minimum of 6 people to sign up for every event to take place (three participants, two judges, and a photographer), and that is how our 5 events were selected.

The triathlon, at 9 AM, was the first event, consisting of a 1.26-mile loop to be repeated 3 times, first on the bicycle, then on foot, and last on skis, for a total distance of 3.78 miles.  We only had one bicycle, so when the first competitor had finished the bike course, the next one would get on the bicycle and start the race.  In this photo I am starting the run after dropping the bicycle, with Sarah coming behind to pick up the bicycle and get started.

The second event, at 11 AM, was the "Beer Can Race".  The beer can is a structure built to the side of the station with stairs connecting the two floors of the station to some tunnels buried under the ice that are used as our garages for materials storage, vehicle storage, vehicle maintenance, and other facilities.  We call it the beer can because it resembles a giant beer can from the outside.  Although the beer can is an enclosed structure and is therefore protected from the wind, it is not heated like the rest of the station, and the temperature this time of year hovers around -25 F (-32 C).  There are 92 steps from the bottom to the top.  We timed each of the 11 participants in this race to see who could climb the stairs the fastest.  To limit our speed, in the interest of safety, we had a rule this year that we could not skip steps.  In this photo Kiwi Dave is reaching the top of the stairs, quite remarkably, in just a t-shirt.

The third event, "The last one pedaling", was invented by the Austrian and German teams who visited us around New Year's eve.  In this event we would start riding the bicycle on a groomed surface, pick up as much speed as we could, then we would enter the soft snow of the sastrugi at a location designated by bamboo sticks.  The winner would be the one who could go the farthest in the sastrugi.  The photo shows Jesse picking up speed, then entering the sastrugi, and finally falling off.  We had some spectacular falls and hysterical laughs.  The winning distance was a mere 33 ft and 3 in, or 10.15 mt. 

The fourth event "The Last One Pulling" tested our strength.  We brought out some spent batteries, each weighing 65 lbs, and loaded them on a sled one at a time.  Each participant had 30 seconds to pull the sled a distance of 25 yards.  As more weight was added, contestants started to drop from the competition.  We ran out of batteries, when two contestants were still pulling, so we started adding people.  Phil won this event, pulling an incredible 1,175 lbs.

The last event, "Fastest in ECW" took place in the dining room.  ECW is our Extreme Cold Weather gear.  It is the equipment issued to each of us to stay warm outside.  It consists of heavy socks, boots, fleeces, jackets, gloves, hats, goggles, worn in layers, one on top of the other.  The winner of this contest would be the one who could put on all this gear, properly buttoned, tied, and fastened, in the fastest time, starting from longjohns.  Here is Abram finishing in third place in 1'57".  Cricket won this event in the lightspeed time of 1'18".

At the end of the day, after dinner, and before the science lecture, Martin, our station manager, awarded medals and prizes to the first top three finishers in each event category, while a slide show of more than 500 photographs from the events was shown on the screen. 

The High Sierra team, Cricket and Dan, wife and husband, swept the field in the team competition with three gold medals, two silver, and a bronze.

Photo credits:  All the photos in this blog were taken by Reinhart Piuk.  Thank you, Reinhart, for braving the cold all day long, and for putting together the great slide show for the award ceremony.  Had we had a contest on who could shoot the best photos the fastest, you would have won gold.

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