In comic replay of tragic race, British are 2nd again

January 11, 1993|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,London Bureau

LONDON -- Well, history is supposed to evolve like that: from tragedy to farce, or at least sadness to gladness.

Much of the world wept 81 years ago when Capt. Robert Falcon Scott of the Royal Navy and four of his comrades died after coming in second to Norwegian Roald Amundsen in the race to the South Pole.

It might be forgiven if the world laughs today, or at least smiles inapprobation, at the outcome of the second great race across the Antarctic, if only because nobody died.

A Norwegian won again. Just before 5:30 Thursday morning, Erling Kagge skiied into the U.S. Amundsen-Scott station at the pole. He had crossed 814 miles of snow and ice, through biting winds and temperatures sometimes reaching 70 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

The 29-year old Oslo lawyer started from Berkner Island in the Weddell Sea, alone, pulling his supplies on a sled. It took him 52 days. He had no support, no pre-positioned supplies, no guidance or aircraft protecting him.

No one had ever done that before.

"It is quite an achievement, a remarkable thing," said Bernard Moran of the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge. "I understand we have two Britons doing a comparable thing, if they're still at it."

They are. The British team, consisting of Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Dr. Michael Stroud, reportedly is still slogging toward the pole. On Wednesday, they were 100 miles short of it. Their aim is to march across the southern continent. Like Mr. Kagge, they are man-hauling their supplies.

Not everybody has been impressed by Mr. Kagge's achievement, or all that disappointed at another apparent British polar failure. A reporter for The Independent newspaper, dispatched to southern Chile presumably to cover the race, described Mr. Kagge as "brattish."

And Peter Clarkson, the executive secretary of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research at the Scott Polar Research Institute, also in Cambridge, said he hadn't the slightest idea what Mr. Kagge was trying to achieve.

"It's basically adventure," he said, an enterprise without scientific content. "Many of these private expeditions come under the umbrella of tourism. Many adventurers, people seeking a new challenge, go to Antarctica because relatively few people have been there."

Mr. Moran is not so dismissive, although he agrees that such feats have little scientific validity.

"But to a certain degree they have. They are useful in testing metabolism, and the caloric values of foods. There is some scientific interest in the outcomes because of this."

It is not known yet how much weight Mr. Kagge lost during his 52-day trek, but he reportedly ate eight pounds of raw bacon along the way and drank olive oil to maintain his protective layer of fat.

Sir Ranulph and Dr. Stroud are said to have lost nearly 20 pounds each so far. They are 48 and 37 years old respectively and by now must be getting weary of coming in second in these contests.

Two years ago in a similar race, Erling Kagge was first to the North Pole. Sir Ranulph and Dr. Stroud were forced to turn back.

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