Danish runner contesting Russ Cook’s claim says he wants to get ‘facts correct’

Danish runner contesting Russ Cook’s claim says he wants to get ‘facts correct’
(Left) Jesper Kenn Olsen running the length of Africa and (right) Russ Cook taking on the same challenge (Jesper Kenn Olsen/Russ Cook/PA)

A Danish ultrarunner contesting a Briton’s claim to be the first person to run the length of Africa has said the British man has pulled off an “incredible achievement” but he wants to “get the facts correct”.

Russ Cook, nicknamed Hardest Geezer, celebrated crossing the finish line on Sunday after running more than 10,000 miles (16,100km) in 352 days on his route from Cape Agulhas, South Africa, to Ras Angela in Tunisia.

Mr Cook has claimed the run makes him the first person to run the length of Africa, but this achievement has been contested by the World Runners Association (WRA) who state their member Jesper Kenn Olsen, from Denmark, completed a similar journey in 2010.

Mr Olsen began his challenge on December 28 2008 in Taba, Egypt, before a 7,948-mile (12,791km) journey to the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, completing 434 running days before finishing in March 2010.

Mr Olsen, 52, told the PA news agency he was “really impressed” at Mr Cook’s challenge but was “surprised” that he claimed he was the first person to run the length of Africa and that he had not contacted the WRA – a group made up of seven athletes who have successfully circumnavigated the world on foot.

He also said he is aware of another runner predating his own feat, Briton Nick Bourne, who ran 10,000km (6,200 miles) from South Africa to Egypt in 1998 according to a contemporaneous BBC article.

“This is more about getting the facts correct and therefore, it’s very nice that a lot of media were quite quick to pick up on that there was something to research on this,” he said.

Russ Cook crossing the finish line at Ras Angela, Tunisia’s most northerly point (The Snapshot People Ltd/PA)

“For me, it’s not so much about whether I’m the first or second or what have you, because obviously, for us, the main thing is the runs around the world.

“It’s much more important that you keep the honour than whether you are number one, two or three.

“However, as far as I understand, he’s definitely the fastest.”

Mr Olsen described Mr Cook’s feat as “an incredible achievement” but said making sure you “recognise the people that have gone before” is “very ingrained” in ultrarunning.

“It’s kind of the hallmark of the most difficult sports and the same in expedition culture that you always recognise who came before,” he said.

“That was why we were very surprised, because usually that never happens in ultrarunning, that you always have respect for what has happened before.”

“It’s an incredible achievement… I mean, so incredibly few people have been able to do it and when I did it, I thought, had I known how tough it is, I probably wouldn’t have touched it – and that’s coming from somebody that has run across the five other continents.”

Jesper Kenn Olsen has contested Russ Cook’s claim that he is the first person to run the length of Africa (Jesper Kenn Olsen/PA)

Mr Olsen said he only learned of Mr Cook’s challenge two weeks ago.

Fellow WRA member Marie Leautey said the group were made aware of it only one month ago and attempted to contact him before releasing their statement.

Ms Leautey, 46, praised Mr Cook’s effort but added that she she does not want her friend Mr Olsen’s achievement to be “written off from history”.

Ms Leautey, a finance consultant based in London, told PA: “It’s not really about claiming a title or a claim for glory or recognition, it’s just a fact-checking thing and it has to do with sportsmanship.

“We are a small community, only seven of us, we all appreciate the people who have done it before us because they are the ones that have made it possible for us to do.

“(Mr Cook) has done a fantastic run and we really want to applaud him for it and say congratulations, but we also don’t want Jesper’s run to be written off from history because it doesn’t feel right.”

Jesper Kenn Olsen running on a rural road in Mozambique (Jesper Kenn Olsen/PA)

She said the running group received an online backlash for claiming Mr Olsen’s run predates Mr Cook’s challenge.

“We got a lot of abuse from people… it was disheartening,” she said.

“They don’t realise WRA is not a big association, we’re just seven people who run around the world – we formed the community not only to protect our legacy, but also we try to inspire others.”

Ms Leautey added that she hopes to speak with the endurance runner and invite him into the WRA.

“The door is very open for Russ and we’d like to talk to him as well,” she said.

“We feel that what he’s done is part of our community.

“What he’s done is great and he’s extremely inspirational.”

Mr Cook, from Worthing, Sussex, has so far raised more than £800,000 for two charities – the Running Charity and Sandblast.

A Guinness World Records spokesperson said: “We don’t monitor a record title for the first crossing of Africa on foot, as there is no recognised standard for the route, distance or time taken.

“Because of this, we focus on monitoring the fastest crossing on foot for Africa and other various routes around the world.”

They added: “Congratulations to Russ on the incredible feat he has undertaken and we are looking forward to receiving evidence from him for the fastest crossing of Africa on foot (male).”

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