The Southern Games: sport and cohesion between the Southern Ocean and Antarctica | Polarjournal
Planking test for Enzo, Mélaine and Alexis at Dumont d’Urville in Terre Adélie. Image: Laurent Le Guiniec / TAAF Image : Laurent Le Guiniec / TAAF

This year’s Southern Games celebrate 7 years of revival, bringing joy and a sense of community to the French scientific stations around Antarctica and on the continent, with the Amsterdam Island Division emerging victorious.

Stamina, inspiration and intellect are challenged at the Antartic Games. On July 15 and 16, overwinterers at French research stations in the Southern Ocean and Antarctica, i.e. Crozet, Kerguelen, Amsterdam, Dumont d’Urville and Concordia, dueled each other in a series of playful, artistic and, above all, sporting competitions to win the coveted “ice penguin” trophy. At the end of this latest edition of the Southern Games, the winner was Amsterdam. The Martin-de-Viviès station will soon receive the trophy from the Kerguelen station, winners for the last two years. The event itself has been organized every year for the past seven years by the medical staff of the scientific bases.

The idea dates back to 1956, when Dr. Yves Pruches, a doctor on the Kerguelen station, came up with the idea of games to improve the well-being of his station’s wintering personnel; at the time, the Port-aux-Français base was only seven years old. In a report, he stressed the importance of the cinema, much appreciated by the members of his mission: “The cinema has continued to enjoy the favor of an audience that is not afraid of seeing the same films seven or eight times over”. However, the doctor noted the lack of a community hub “where people could get together, play games […], enjoy good evenings; or simply find the necessary peace and quiet”, he wrote to the administration. In order to provide a sense of community and solidarity, he created the first games. Ever since, Dr. Pruches’ advice on the need for a shared space has been widely followed, but the Australic Games did not stand the test of time.

In 2017, Dr Christophe Carraut, a wintering physician on the Kerguelen station who loved the story, dusted off the games. “Initially, we wanted to organize them during the Midwinter (week of festivities during the winter solstice, Editor’s note), but it was too complicated,” he explains. During this sumptuous period, the stations focus on community life, organizing meals, parties and a wide variety of entertainment to break the monotony of the shortest days and permanent darkness. “So we thought it was best just after July,” comments Dr. Carraut, pleasantly surprised to learn that the games are still going on.

Christophe Carraut, notebook in hand, ready to record the score of the bench press event in Kerguelen in 2017. Image: TAAF

The Southern Games were resurrected with crossfit (push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, etc.), darts, bench press, plank and treadmill on the program. “We made sure that each division chose one discipline, so there were five. The strategy is to choose something for which the base has the necessary capacity,” he adds.

Each health service then forwards its results to the organizing division, which establishes a ranking by discipline in all confidence. The winner of the games is the division with the most points. “We had made a small exception to give Concordia an advantage on the events to compensate for the altitude effect,” he adds. At over 3,000 metres on the Antarctic ice cap, the competitors only get 60% of the oxygen available at sea level.

Moment of euphoria

Still, Concordia has yet to win the Southern Games. In 2018, they were one second away from winning the carpet running record and held the women’s darts record. Despite its hostile environment, Antarctica is still in the race. Dumont d’Urville won the games for the first time in 2020. “Another great collective memory for our very special year 2020. So we had a little moment of euphoria at the end of dinner last night, and congratulations to our sports teams who (almost) killed it in the gym!” recounts François Gourand, meteorologist and forecaster, on his mission blog.

The “ice penguin” reached Terre Adélie in 2020. The competition trophy has been passed from division to division for the last seven years, sometimes a bit late. Image: Pascal Grijol

Back in 2017, Christophe Carraut set about making the trophy by bending aluminum sheet. He reused construction equipment from the base’s buildings. He learnt this technique from Pascal Grijol, the power station mechanic, himself a sculptor of an aluminium penguin.

Clip on the construction of a penguin by bending aluminium sheets. Video : Pascal Grijol

Following their victory, Dumont d’Urville organized the 2021 edition and a new event was born: the Emperor’s Race. Participants had to advance without dropping an “egg” placed between their feet. The same year, a choreography event was also introduced. In 2022, apnea in a basin was added to the list of disciplines. In 2023, paper airplane throwing added an original touch to the events. One impressive score remains in the books: 31 minutes of planking by Mickel-Ange Charlettine in 2019. This discipline has been present at every edition since 2017.

At the re-launch of the Southern Games, Dr. Carraut and the district chief of Kerguelen had contacted a Chilean station in Antarctica that had participated in the games. “The idea was to be international and organize games that reflected the Antarctic treaty,” he recalls. Meaning an international, natural and peaceful venue dedicated to knowledge. The future of the games is now in the hands of the Île de Saint-Paul and Amsterdam division and its next overwinterers.

Camille Lin, PolarJournal

Link to the victorious page : Official blog of Saint-Paul and Amsterdam

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