An extract from the book – Sports the Olympics Forgot.
The Pyramids at Giza and Saqqara have long held the fascination of the world and the method of their construction has been the subject of much debate. The Pyramids are visited by thousands of tourists each year and yet none of them are allowed to climb on these architectural wonders of the world.
However, on one day of the year, June 21st, pre-authorised athletes are allowed to take part in the annual “Race to the Stars” up the Great Pyramid of Cheops. There are three lesser races on the Pyramids of Khafre and Menkaure at Giza and on the Step Pyramid at Saqqara between June 14th and the 21st. .
The “Race to the Stars” is the hardest event and is confined to the 64 finest pyramid climbers in the world. The 16 quarter-finalists from each year’s race automatically qualify for the next year’s race. The other 48 racers are decided by pre-qualifying events on the pyramid of Menkaure in the week prior to June 21st.
Each year there are roughly 5,000 entrants for the race who make their way to Cairo at their own expense. They are given a thorough medical by the race organizers and those who pass have to sign an insurance waiver and provide proof they have adequate medical insurance for repatriation to their own country. If more than 3,072 pass the tests then an elimination 10,000-metre race is run around the Giza Plateau and the top 3,072 entrants reach the pre-qualifying races.
A basic pyramid race comprises four racers, one for each of the edges. The idea is that the contestants start the race 50 yards from their corner of the pyramid. They stand by an empty plinth and wait for the Starting Judge to wave the Wand of Osiris. Once this happens, they make their way to the top of the pyramid, collect an image of Thoth from a judge wearing an ibis mask, who stands on the capstone, and then descend to the bottom. The winner is the person who first places his Thoth on the plinth.
In the week prior to June 21st the qualifying takes place on the Pyramid of Menkaure. Between June 14th and June 17th the 3,072 entrants each take part in one of the 768 races; the losers from these races qualify for the races on the Step Pyramid of Djoser between June 18th – 21st. On June 18th and 19th the 768 winners are whittled down to 192 and then on June 20th the final 48 are decided and they qualify for the “Race to the Stars” on the Great Pyramid on June 21st. The 576 who lose races on June 18th and 19th qualify for the races on the Pyramid of Menkaure on June 21st, which is still a prestigious race. The 144 who lose races on June 20th qualify for the races on the Pyramid of Khefre on June 21st, a race only second in importance to the race on the Great Pyramid.
On June 21st the races on the Pyramid of Menkaure start at 6am, those on Khafre at 10am, and on the Great Pyramid at 2pm. All the races on Menkaure and Khafre are normal pyramid races as is the first race for each contestant on the Great Pyramid. However, in the “Race to the Stars”, the 16 semi-finalists go to the top of the pyramid twice and collect a separate Thoth each time. In the final race, the four athletes have to collect four Thoths, climbing nearly 1800 feet to the top during their four separate visits.
The only person who has won the “Race to the Stars” more than twice is the Algerian marathon runner Ahmed al-Mansouri, who has won four times including unprecedented consecutive wins in 1978 and 1979. Al-Mansouri gradually progressed through the various levels winning the Step Pyramid race in 1970, the Menkaure race in 1973 and the Khafre race in 1975. He qualified for fourteen consecutive “Race to the Stars” between 1976 and 1989, which is also a record. He eventuality retired due to a persistent knee injury, a problem that was exacerbated by the jarring experienced descending the pyramid.
The first woman competitor, Helena Badawi, qualified for the Great Pyramid race in 2003 and reached the semi-finals in three consecutive years before a twisted ankle sidelined her in 2006. She returned the following year and won the Khafre race in 2009. She has qualified for the “Race to the Stars” for 2019 and is determined to reach the final.