Gurkhas outpace Comets

THE Queen's Gurkha Signals team early this morning won the 100-kilometre Trailwalker '94 in 14 hours and 48 minutes - well outside last year's record time.

They were runners-up last year when the 10th Princess Mary's Own Gurkha Rifles won the race in 13 hours and 18 minutes.

In second place was the civilian team Carlingford Comet, who broke the civilian record in 15 hours and 16 minutes. The previous record of 16 hours and 20 minutes was set by the Hongkong Bank A team in 1992.

Heaps of liniment, sweat bands and an electric atmosphere heralded the start of the gruelling Trailwalker marathon.

Split starts in the morning and afternoon in Sai Kung ensured a smooth and safe entry to the MacLehose Trail for the 600 teams taking part.

Celebrity Cherie Chung fired the starter's gun at 11 am to send the first 350 teams onto the trail. The retired movie star was soon surrounded by entrants eager for a photograph with her.

Last-minute preparations took on a novel approach.

A traditional war dance, called the Cibi, fired up the Fijian team before the muscle-bound members put their intense home training to the test.

Leader Aminiasi Maraum said the team, from the Sheraton Fiji, had been hand-picked from a group of 15 fitness fanatics from the hotel.

While the Fijians agreed it was a long way to travel for a race, they said the chance to compete and raise money for needy people was too good to refuse.

Hidden among the sea of humans at the starting line were four dogs, all attached to leads and taking part to promote the RSPCA's cause.

Vets from the animal welfare group lead the former strays on the first leg of the walk. Since news spread the dogs would run, two have found homes.

Among the younger contingent was schoolboy Donald Asprey, 14, who joined his father Alistair, the Secretary for Security, in the Gentlemen Strollers team.

More at home studying at boarding school in London than tramping the hills of Hong Kong, Donald had flown to the territory for his semester break.

Mr Asprey said he hoped the team would beat its 27-hour personal-best time. But, when asked if he was ready to take on the gruelling track, his son replied calmly: 'Not really.' One of the event's more familiar sights, that of the Morris Dancers prancing across the line in last position, will be absent this year, with the team giving the race a miss.

The Taipan Team, comprising business tycoons seen more often in tailored suits than running shorts, made sure their gold baton was buffed and shining brightly before starting their relay run.

The team hopes to complete the marathon with more than $1 million in its kitty for donations.

The race takes entrants on a mountainous hike through eight country parks in the New Territories.

Last year the event raised $10.3 million for Oxfam Hong Kong, the Gurkha Welfare Trust and other charities.