PLA defending champions to miss 2012 Oxfam Trailwalker race
The teams that have won the gruelling race over the past three years have decided against competing this year owing to 'work circumstances'
The all-conquering People's Liberation Army (PLA) teams that have dominated the Oxfam Trailwalker for the past three years will not be defending the crown this time around.
Organisers feared the worst when the Hong Kong garrison had not officially contacted them in August to signal their intention to take part, as it had done the previous three years. The PLA confirmed in a statement to the Sunday Morning Post that its team would not be at the starting line when the race begins on Friday morning.
"Every year it depends on each individual situation and our work circumstances whether we can take part in charity activities or not," the statement read. "But we will continue to work with all parts of the Hong Kong community whenever possible."
The organiser, Hong Kong Oxfam, thanked the PLA and praised them for helping to raise the profile of the event.
"The PLA's participation has greatly helped Oxfam Trailwalker over the past three years. They have put in great performances and last year raised HK$300,000 for charity," a spokeswoman for the organisers said.
The Hong Kong garrison made its debut in the event in 2009, but it proved to be a contentious first appearance.
The garrison swept the first two places in controversial fashion after accusations of questionable tactics because they used a support crew of more than 50 people. Teams finishing fourth and sixth complained that the PLA teams used an excessive number of support runners to join the route at intervals and give out food and water at checkpoints.
They compared the team to the Gurkhas - the dominant runners in the past who used only two or three support runners.
The Gurkhas have not joined the event in recent years, but this time a strong team from Nepal, managed by an ex-Gurkha based in Hong Kong, will be taking part. The first Trailwalker race, held in 1981, was a Gurkha-led training exercise for the army.
This year, no team epitomises the spirit of the race better than the one comprising family members of Masa Tse Ting-chunn - the tour guide killed in Manila in 2010 when a sacked policeman took Hongkongers hostage in a tour bus. Tse's father Hon-ming, 62, and brothers Chi-kin, 35, and Chi-hang, 30, will participate in his memory.
"Masa did the Trailwalker in 1998 and now we want to do it to keep his spirit alive with us," Hon-ming said.
The Trailwalker is for teams of four to raise money for Hong Kong Oxfam by tackling 20 hills and mountains for 100 kilometres, mostly along the MacLehose Trail. This year, 4,800 people in 1,200 teams will compete.